Creating Public Value Through Networked Governance: 5 Lessons From NBSPRN

This week’s guest post first appeared on Medium and is reposted here with permission. Nick (Executive Director, Open Government and Innovation, Government of New Brunswick) was active in Research Impact Canada (RIC) when he was Executive Director of the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network (NB SPRN). He recently joined an RIC panel at the Canadian Science Policy Research Network to discuss the research to policy interface using NB SPRN as a case study. He shares what he has learned working in this space.
Networked governance is an approach to problem solving that integrates the external capacities of organizations and individuals with government. In this sense, smart governments pull in the knowledge and experience of citizens to inform decision making and work with external actors to create value.

How networked governance and knowledge mobilization support a shift to an open government paradigm
How networked governance and knowledge mobilization support a shift to an open government paradigm

For over four years I developed and managed an organization dedicated to advancing a networked governance approach to policy development. As more and more organizations begin to take this approach I thought it useful to share some of our lessons learned. I hope this helps others accelerate their development.
If we knew then what we know now
1- We would have worked with government actors sooner to identify, prioritize, and frame the problems they want to solve; the problems requiring further research and engagement. Team role: government relations, strategic partnerships;
2- We would have invested in membership development, management, and engagement. As a member organization with a CRM tool you can position yourself to connect the right people, at the right time with the right projects. Developing a membership registration process that collects needed information and an orientation plan for new members is critical. Team role: outreach, engagement, member relations;
3- We would have built a knowledge translation and mobilization practice. Knowledge mobilization and brokering was identified early on as a strategic role of our network, however we did not invest in building the capabilities soon enough, nor in training our members. Joining Research Impact Canada really helped catalyze our thinking and capacity for knowledge mobilization. Team role: research, design, communications, digital media;
4- We would have developed a strong facilitation practice sooner. Bringing together diverse audiences and having them collaborate is no easy feat. It takes a special skill and intentionality to do this well. We invested in training our staff and partnering with outside facilitators to do this. Anyone who has been to a poorly chaired meeting knows how unproductive and frustrating they can be. It’s many times worse with larger groups of folks from a multitude of backgrounds. Team role: citizen engagement, facilitation, art of hosting;
5- We would have spent less time being transactional, chasing projects that would contribute to overly simplistic financial metrics. In an environment driven by financial contraints and crude success measures like return on investment, we spent a lot of time focusing on grant applications. This meant that rather than building infrastructure and systems that would meet the mission of advancing evidence-based policy development, we were focused on simply getting grant applications in. Success, especially into the long-term depends on far more than financial ROI. Investing in such infrastructure will actually contribute to a greater success rate in grants. Team role: systems thinking, strategic thinking, organizational design, network leadership.
A map of the networked governance ecosystem in New Brunswick
A map of the networked governance ecosystem in New Brunswick

One thing we did well from the beginning is collaborate generously. The Network’s founder once said: the only way to counter ego is to not have ego, and the only way to counter territorialism is to not be territorial. Our small fledgling team alone could not possibly build an ecosystem to change centuries old institutions. Everything we did required collaboration with others or facilitating collaboration between others. Networked governance means leading and working in unfamiliar, non-traditional ways. It means you cannot expect to fully own anything nor fully take the credit for anything. It means sharing or giving credit generously. It means your focal point remains on your transformative purpose, not small “p” politics, or personal glory.
In times of rapid change no one organization or government has the research and development capacity needed to be responsive. Investing in networks and the ability to work with actors from across sectors is a requirement to creating public value in the 21st century, not a nice to have.