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Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Networks drive innovation, not hierarchies. Hierarchies are good for implementation, once a new idea has taken root. Networks are good for generating new knowledge, new products, new practices. They are good for spreading new ideas, and bringing new narratives to public attention.

How can Landcare groups and Networks, Landcare members and staff, work more skilfully with networks? Since 2015, Landcare Victoria Inc’s CLEA project (Community Learning for Environmental Action) has targeted peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and learning around the social side of Landcare—the business of working with communities, building partnerships and influencing agendas locally and in government.

Rather than try to capture and hold that knowledge, CLEA has been testing ways to get it shared around, peer-to-peer. For environment groups, peer-to-peer learning is their ace-in-the-hole, the secret sauce. When people talk at depth with a peer, they learn faster. When they start talking regularly, they act on the changes they have been thinking about. When they can connect easily to the right person, learning flows.

When personal networks cohere into collective networks around an issue, innovation accelerates and practice shifts. The narrative shifts in communities, and community opinion can start to influence local and government agendas.

CLEA's starting point is the NE region, and the networks emerging right now around climate adaptation. Rural communities are shifting the way they think about water, about pastures, about stock and native vegetation, about markets, about fire and forests. They have been doing this forever, slowly, but climate change is raising the stakes, pushing a rethink of just about everything involved in making a living from the land.

And it is the handful of initiators in each locality and each community that invent and drive shifts in thinking and practice.

How can we grow the networks that support the initiators that drive the shifts that will make rural living and rural livelihoods workable a decade from now, and into a very different future? We're rethinking and fine-tuning every other aspect of land management, so why not rethink and fine-tune the way we work with the networks that support the shifts that are needed, rather than simply hoping those networks will grow?

Let's make a distinction straight away between personal networks and collective networks. Personal networks you build yourself, to fit what you need. Collective networks form when personal networks fit together around a shared interest.

The stronger your personal network, the stronger you are. Networks are where we each find people who share our interests and who are happy to share what they know. Networks are our supply lines, for advice and support, the place we go (after a goggle search) when we're working on difficult questions.

We're looking for the answers that fit our situation. Each situation is different, and general principles have to worked out to fit our specific situation. But to do this, it helps to have good people to talk to, people who know what we're talking about. We hear what others are doing and we learn from their experience. Their interest encourages us to press on with a difficult situation or a new approach.

The stronger the collective network, the more secure we all become. Collective networks connect people around a common purpose. They are on about the same thing, so people are prepared to freely sharing what they know and willingly support each other. Combine a shared purpose with diversity in points of view, talents and skills, and the collective network will drive sharper thinking and bolder action.

Like the networks of microbial life in healthy soil, networks nurture the whole. These thin filaments of connection between people around a shared interest or locality are the conduits through which flow ideas, information and encouragement. The better that flow, the faster are possibilities turned into reality.

How to grow collective networks is the task CLEA 2020 has taken on. We're doing it in the North East region so that we deal with real-life, not theory. Our starting point is to find out what conversations need more attention around the shifts underway as people adapt to a changing climate. Our posts here in this blog will chart our progress.

Ross Colliver, Image: Timon Studler, Unsplash.

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