Are Backbone Organizations Eroding the Norms that Make Networks Succeed?
Are these structures useful, not useful, or actually destructive? Each of the attempts at codification, it seems, comes with its own problems of misplaced priorities and blindness to contextual realities that are lying in wait to pounce on the best-laid plans. So it was with attempts to force collaboration from above through funding structures for a half-century following the 1970s, and so it is with the idea of collective impact (CI), as developed by the consulting firm FSG in 2011. In this paper, however, I focus just on the assertion by FSG that collective impact models—involving cross-sectoral planning and action—must have a backbone organization. That is not only not necessarily true—the challenge is that to the extent that the backbone succeeds, it also can begin to erode community norms of collective accountability and engagement that gave rise to the network in the first place, undermining the very muscles and ligaments needed for coordinated action. Are backbone organizations eroding the norms that make networks succeed?
I worry that, rather than building on the back of shared responsibility and accountability (likely the hardest and most important work for sustaining a network and reaching goals), the backbone model lets members off the hook and deprives networks of the very spirit in which they have thrived…
Read the full article from the Nonprofit Quarterly below. Feel free to download to use for any non-commercial purposes. Are backbone organizations eroding the norms that make networks succeed? You decide for yourself.
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