Towards new solutions by networking

Networks bring together competence and utilise the knowledge and skills of different actors in a diversified manner. In the best case, network-based cooperation can result in a collective learning process and save costs.

Writers: Leena Kononen, NAOF, Virpi Einola-Pekkilä, Ministry of Finace and Liisa Virolainen, State Treasury. The writers are all reformers of public administration who are active in various networks.

Networks function best when their members share the same passion for finding joint solutions and developing joint operating models. Networks typically have a vision or dream about something that none of their members could achieve alone.

In addition to a common ambition, successful networking is promoted by trust, shared understanding of the situation, open minds, and shared platforms for working together. If the different actors’ work is, moreover, steered from the perspective of phenomena and structures, it is possible to achieve the shared objective.

A network rewards its members by insights, saved time, and self-direction

At its best, cooperation based on networking utilises swarm intelligence and generates a collective learning process. Swarm intelligence refers to collective behaviour where the interaction between individuals or units leads to new “intelligent” behavioural models, services or products.

The aim of networking is to provide the greatest possible added value with the least possible amount of administrative work and hierarchy. The best cooperation based on networking is agile, avoids bureaucracy, and achieves results.

In networking, it is understood that not all wisdom resides in individuals or individual organisations. That is why the value of networks is constantly increasing in an operating environment that is difficult to foresee and that requires new solutions.

The members of a network must be solution-oriented and willing to accept diversity and disagreement. They must also be curious and willing to contemplate together with others, question issues constructively and give their time. However, members of well-functioning networks often get the time back many times over: considering issues from several perspectives at the same time helps to avoid overlapping work.

Networking is already part of central government’s “real” work

The trend where work is increasingly transferred to networks and cooperation in networks is becoming a normal way of working is also seen in central government.  It is necessary to reserve working time for network cooperation in the same way as for other work in order for networking to become visible and to be understood as “real work”.

There are many different kinds of networks in central government for many kinds of needs. Some of the central government networks are purely professional peer networks formed by people doing the same work. In this case, the networks aim particularly at sharing knowledge and best practices, and at developing a specific professional field.

Networks are also formed increasingly around new phenomena or topics. In this case, the members of the networks often share the same customers and the willingness to create better service packages.

Networking must be safeguarded

Network-based working undoubtedly poses a challenge for traditional leadership. To be able to support cooperation in networks, management must understand the added value it provides.

The operating culture in central government is moving towards self-direction. When the shared objective is clearly defined, competent and experienced people can manage their own work. Special emphasis in leadership is placed on managing cooperation, and on supporting and enabling working. This challenges the traditional hierarchical leadership models to make room for new kind of leadership.

Working organised through networks is agile and sometimes also temporary. A network can cease to exist when it has fulfilled its mission.  New networks will replace it to meet new, topical challenges.

New platform for networking

In central government, network-based cooperation will really take off when Senate Properties opens new joint-use premises to promote cooperating and learning at Yliopistonkatu 5. In addition to providing physical premises, Työ 2.0 Lab is an experiment aiming at developing cross-sectoral, highly interactive and experimental operating models that produce results in an agile manner. The mission is to produce new ideas and solutions to society’s systemic and complicated problems in a cross-sectoral, unprejudiced and people-centred manner.