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Lessons in Weaving a Network

WeavEast has been a rich experiment in trying to build, or weave, an Atlantic network of changemakers. “Trying” is the operative word. WeavEast was built on big dreams and beautiful intentions, and these were not realized to the extent that WeavEast’s founders might have hoped.

Some great connections have been made during this three-year experiment, funded by the McConnell Foundation. And we have learned hard, deep lessons, which we have been actively harvesting over the last six months.

WeavEast wraps up this December, and we look forward to continuing to foster a network of collaborative, strong relationships among social innovators throughout the Atlantic region going forward. 

In the spirit of excavating our failures for learnings, what follows is a summary of the lessons that have been gleaned:

Evaluator Miranda Cobb identified a set of Wicked Questions that shaped the challenges and tensions of network building, around the dichotomous themes of Divergence / Convergence, Inclusion / Exclusion, Centralized / Distributed. 

Jennifer DeCoste, our original WeavEast lead, shared the challenges of trying to build non-hierarchical governance models

“Work in new horizons will require new forms of leadership but it feels like we are repeating the same mistakes over and over and using it as an excuse to fall back on hierarchical models. Now that we have identified what not to do, we will use this series to look at successful models of non-hierarchical governance, to glean from their experience and find positive role models for future networks.”

Jennifer DeCoste
  • The funding model, and the way it is accepted, will affect the work.
  • It is hard to maintain a ‘hosted’ relationship without losing independence.
  • The power at play must be acknowledged and named
  • Choose your nest wisely: models of leadership are contagious

Learn more of Jennifer’s lessons by reading her post, Distributed Leadership: a reality check.

Louise Adongo, our Executive Director, invited the network’s reflections on trying to scale deep from the “messy middle” of the work: “From what I have heard about our experiences with WeavEast over the last three years, we have experienced how systems shift, and know the messy ambiguity of it to be true.”

Other current staff shared their thoughts about WeavEast. Content curator Charlene Boyce shared some of her thoughts about being WeavEast’s “death doula” in Fireflies and Rhizomes. Director of Organizational Development and Culture Tyler Colbourne will publish his reflections on the WeavEast experience at the end of November.

Former Executive Director Annika Voltan offered insights into her “apples, onions and peaches” around WeavEast: “We’d hoped that the magnitude of connections would be much broader — but I now wonder if it’s really possible to build trust at large scale.”

  • Trust and relationships are foundational and essential.
  • Can relational work be scaled large, quickly?
  • Building relationships with communities that have traditionally been excluded requires more than intention.
  • Developing a common understanding of goals can’t be skipped.

Learn more of Annika’s lessons by reading her post, Experimenting with Networks and Systems Change: Moving Beyond Intent and Iteration

How We Thrive founder Susan Szpakowski gave us her thoughts on composting what we have learned: “As a coherence-lover, I dream of enlightened models of “holding the centre,” as I shared above. But in practice I wonder if sometimes it’s better to just let go so the system can shift and find new equilibrium with new patterns and players that de-center whiteness. Sometimes chaos and failure are good-enough allies.”

  • There are no shortcuts.
  • Decolonizing our thinking is an essential part of the journey.
  • Horizontal and vertical facilitation are both needed in tension to move the work forward.
  • Money = power, and that leads to imbalances that must be addressed.

To learn more of Susan’s lessons, read her post Composting WeavEast.

The current cohort of WeavEast changemakers, working in areas as diverse as literacy, racism, sexual health, climate change and social isolation, are grappling with some of the same challenges of network building, as well as the pandemic, New Brunswick’s school strikes, a cyber attack on Newfoundland and Labrador’s health department and the perennial nonprofit problem — lack of capacity. 

WeavEast has had an impact: the Atlantic Youth Weavers’ Photovoice Project and the Narrative Project both expanded the reach of the network and made an important impact on participants. Funding from this round are supporting a solar farm project, a travelling health clinic supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ people, a narrative project engaging senior women, and two of the projects are themselves network-building initiatives, one for Two-Spirit youth and the other for young artists. The food security movement in Atlantic Canada has been supported by WeavEast, and that in turn may have an impact on the region as a whole, as inflation drives up the cost of groceries.

We have facilitated the sharing of contacts, tools, processes and knowledge. The dream of an Atlantic-wide network continues to grow. To connect some of the metaphors from the reflections, perhaps the lessons we compost now will nourish the rhizomes that are creeping out and producing new shoots. We can probably expect more crops of apples, onions and peaches from this.

We look forward to continuing this work in new ways, beyond the three-year scope of the bright weaving of WeavEast.

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