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The Failure Points of Network-Centric Planning

Measures of Effectiveness for the Information-Age Navy: The Effects of Network-Centric Operations on Combat Outcomes by Walter Perry, Robert W. Button, Jerome Bracken, Thomas Sullivan, Jonathan Mitchell.

I ranted on the fun part of the Information Age Navy two days ago (Here) but there are a few more snips that I want to explore. It seems that in the theater that the navy team is interested in the computer or scenario modeling they are finding the weaknesses in network behavior. As with all great research the conclusions come to "no kidding" results. (Fatty food can be bad for you research.)

The first one that they try to point to is related to scale and collaboration payoff. At some point in the evolution of a network campaign the rewards are outweighed by increased complexity.

Instances may occur in which burdens of network complexity outweigh gains of increased opportunity to collaborate

There are a few reasons that this statement could be true in a political context. First, I would say the "you are going to lose anyway" law will skew the calculation of gains. The anti-war protest may have reached this point a month before troops rolled into Iraq. Potential network participants started to look at the gains and opted not to participate. Second, the largest factors that dictate the "truth" of the statement center on network complexity and network friction. If bringing new participants "up to speed" takes a larger investment than opportunity payoff then the network should not welcome additional participants. Conversely, if it takes too long for the network to calculate the value of and deploy new participants then the participation is not offset by gain. Finally, the quote assumes a "rigidity" or inflexibility in the deployment scenario that may not be "as true" in a social movement context. (Missiles and planes moving to attack a country ) is a much more defined moment than a campaign. In most (but not all) network-centric advocacy context if the "new" node has huge potential the campaign can "reset" the timeframe.

The quote adds clarity to the things that a campaign or movement "must have" to scale. These tools center on speed, information exchange and awareness, and the ability of new network members to quickly plug into tasks that matter.

This is definitely appropriate in national campaigns and advocacy movements. The large professional staff will often attempt to "go it alone" because the complexity of organizing and working with lots of smaller groups is perceived to be burdensome. (Kerry, Clark vs Dean campaign styles). Key questions to ask as groups plan a campaign should center on "success". What can we do alone to win? What happens if we start to succeed and more people want to join in the effort? How do we reduce the joining friction? How do we absorb as much energy, talent and resources as society is willing to offer without becoming a choke point in the engagement process? Can we make use of someone that wants to offer $1 or 2 minutes of time as well as someone that wants to give us $100,000 and offer 10 fulltime staff to help for 3 weeks. I would bet Dean Campaign can answer yes to both and most others can not.

The Perry paper has another quote that in a social context swings focus away from the tools and onto the strong social ties:

Among the factors that affect the value of collaboration is the knowledge the decision making team members possess about critical elements of the operation and their level of experience acting as a team. A team capable of highly effective collaboration is not apt to benefit from additional members-regardless of the new members knowledge
The quote is about trust and network tactics. How does the network of people implementing a campaign trust each other? What does the network do to reinforce that trust and practice the "team" between campaigns? The other fact that the quote points to is that once that team is assembled and running another new team should form to execute an independent but complementary action. ( I think this could be linked to the GORE-TEX management strategy mentioned in Tipping Point or Linked - 150 employees per unit, don't expand the plant to 200 start another building for the next 150-)

The ditty that has me really stuck is "The downside of networks, the larger the number of connections in an operational network, the more likely nodes will experience “overload” . I worry that most our people and certainly most of America feel like they are "overload" already. As the movement becomes more networked we are going to need to devise strategy and tools to assess each participants connection capacity and a "protection tool" to prevent overload. I see emerging intermediaries as examples of that framework. Move-on could be seen as a overload protector for individual move-on members. Move-on shifts from campaign to campaign, environment to politics to anti-war but they are very careful not to jump at everything. In a new network-centric advocacy movement participants will need some sort of individually controlled filter. ( I know this is a sloppy end but this overload question might need to fester for a while before I find any clarity)