A Guidebook for Managing Telecentre Networks/Bringing it all together: Integrated network Management
Bringing it all together: Integrated network Management
This final chapter attempts to do two things: it will integrate the topics we have explored separately to provide a coherent picture, and it will put forth additional guidance to expand the potential and impact of our telecentre networks.
How does it all come together?
In the previous chapters we explored the main issues that need to be paid attention to in order to make a telecentre network successful. While it may seem like a simplistic conclusion, the single most important message that emerges is that, in the end, networks are about sharing, including knowledge, resources, vision, efforts, risks, failures… Sharing is mostly determined by attitude: it is a disposition more than an obligation. Thus, sharing (and by extension good telecentre network management) can best be promoted, hardly enforced.
This does not mean that we should simply resign to hoping that the people and organizations that make up a telecentre network will have a spontaneously positive, generous and productive attitude towards sharing. We wish it could be that easy… but that is not what one naturally starts with, even if a good general predisposition exists between those that come together in a network. This guidebook has been prepared because good intentions are not enough: the purpose is to provide useful knowledge about creating a fertile environment for sharing in our networks.
Threading a networked path
The challenge for telecentre network managers, and other people directly involved in network-wide operations, is how to deal with all the issues presented in the preceding chapters in parallel: exercising a suitable governance style, taking measures to ensure financial sustainability, supporting telecentres to offer the right content and services, and so on, to occur simultaneously.
In fact, network management is not a linear path from A to B, since network structures are not linear. As we argue later on in this chapter, the most productive networks are three-dimensional. So making our way through the network involves going back and forth, and sideways, and up and down, and all combinations thereof. In other words, there is a destination (B) or more than one destination (B1, B2, etc.). The telecentre network manager knows where he/she wants the network to go. Perhaps it is towards increasing the number of telecentres involved while diversifying sources of funding. Or it might be to stabilize a newly formed network, or finding out how to satisfy the demand for content and services to all member telecentres.
Regardless of the ‘destination’, instead of moving one step at a time in a straight line, the movement appears more like a bouncing around within the network. If we were to draw a path, it might resemble squiggles drawn by a chile: many short lines with multiples directions and without apparent shape.
Sound confusing? Well, just think that you are probably functioning in that way right now. As a network manager, you deal with many nodes (mainly telecentres) and with a variety of issues that affect both their individual operations and the interactions among them. One day you may go to some of the nodes (telecentres, or other organizations) to provide them with services, or to different nodes to get content, and still others to implement a new project.
Tomorrow you may get the same nodes involved in different network actions, new nodes to perform those same actions or a mixed pack altogether. The point is that you are moving in a networked environment, threading your way around, while attempting to move the entire network in a specific direction, that is, towards the network’s objectives.
An integrated view of telecentre network management
The point is that even though a telecentre network manager may bounce around a lot while doing his/her work, there is a certain and definite direction in which s/he wants to move the network, that is, toward its stated objectives. We can assume that network members will reach a consensus on those objectives, so that all are reasonably in agreement in terms of what they would like the network to achieve.
While the aims may be clear, the path may be much less so. The fundamental responsibility of the network manager (and management team) is to set out the path and steer the network through it, through good analysis, proper decisions, and a collaborative leadership style coherent with a network environment.
This bears some similarities to steering a large sailing ship. There are a variety of sails, each with a different purpose and effect. In addition, the load of the ship, attitude of its crew, quality of materials being carried, and atmospheric conditions, etc. will contribute to determining how the navigation goes and whether the ship gets to its destination according to plan.
This guidebook has explored a set of issues that will determine to a significant extent how the network advances, and whether it will arrive at the port as expected (its objective). The network manager, together with those responsible for its ‘piloting’, will activate and modulate tasks related to network governance, communications, financial sustainability, ICT policy, etc. in the most properly balanced way for smooth navigation. It has already been mentioned that each of these issues is important and that they need handling in parallel, but for the sake of clarity, we have examined them separately and in relative isolation. We will therefore now try to describe some of their relations and inter-dependencies.
Let us now consider each issue in terms of how it is affected or impacted by others:
- Network governance: This is clearly one of the key determinants of how the network operates, with strong links to how its members interact (participation and communication), while setting the playing field for business models (sustainability) and taking in significant inputs from the monitoring, evaluation and learning functions.
- Financial sustainability: If this is not achieved (at least partially), the network may be short lived, but that doesn’t mean that it is strongly related to all internal network functions. The types and amount of content and services will strongly influence financial sustainability, as well as network governance (the ‘rules of the game’). In a healthy network environment, it will need a significant participatory attitude from its members (internally), while it can both contribute and benefit from international collaboration (externally).
- Participation: Participation is one of the key defining characteristics of a network (without it, is hard to speak of a real network). It is the main channel for content and services and the basis for a well-functioning monitoring, evaluation and learning framework. It is also essential that the network adequately represents its members on ICT policy issues or for collaboration with other networks. It is hard to think of one area upon which it doesn’t have a strong influence. It is therefore one of the most important processes to stimulate in order for good results.
- Communications: If participation is an embedded characteristic in all areas of the network, we could say that communication is the fuel (or the seed) that makes participation possible. And, like participation, it´s a sine-qua-non condition for a network – a set of non-communicating nodes does not make up a network. Communications, in turn, will be mainly enabled by adequate network governance, aside from the attitude of the participants and their cultural styles of course.
- Content and services: These can be seen, using developmental jargon, as the ‘immediate objectives’ of a telecentre network – or as Hasan writes in Chapter 6, they are the ‘heart’ of a telecentre network. Network governance generates content and services, possibly including various types. Even more importantly, content and services require participation from the members of the network. In turn, they will strongly determine financial sustainability of the TCN.
- Monitoring, evaluation and learning (M&E and Learning): This function aims at at improving other aspects of telecentre network management, allowing for modifications based on evidence. In other words, M&E and learning constitute the principal ‘navigational’ aid for the network to reach its objectives. It is a collective task and thus depends strongly on participation and communication. It is largely defined as part of network governance methods. While it will help to improve any aspect of TCN management, perhaps its most direct effect will be content and services (helping to understand what people think of them); and network governance (by introducing adjustments to the ‘navigation’ itself).
- International TCN collaboration: This is a natural extension of networking done internally in the country. The results of that collaboration will be applicable to various areas but without a strong impact on any of them (as an external action, that impact cannot be guaranteed). Content and services or the work on ICT policy are areas that could possibly benefit the most. As for the internal drivers to get a TCN proactively involved in international collaboration, they are mainly participation (at least by some of its members) and network governance (setting the conditions to facilitate such collaboration).
Let us pause for a minute to reflect upon these interactions. For example, network governance and participation emerge as the single most determinant aspects of network management, since they have a strong direct influence on practically all other functions. Communication is slightly less critical although still important since it fuels participation and sets the level of dynamism (or ‘temperature’) of the network.
Content and services, as the key ‘products’ of telecentre networks, require actions on essentially all fronts. Its most significant measurable effect will be financial sustainability – the intangible effects will be a more satisfied membership that can easily point to the benefits of being a part of the TCN.
Financial sustainability and monitoring, evaluation & learning have crosscutting effects, where the first powers actions while the latter facilitates change. On the other hand, the outward management aspect of is also cross-cutting with both short and longer-term effects (though more geared towards the middle-term effects).
These considerations can and will change as a consequence of many factors, such as the maturity of a telecentre network, its political context, degree of heterogeneity or simply its size. Let’s imagine a big, state-instituted TCN that is largely financed by the government in a country with essentially non-democratic institutions. Perhaps its role in ICT policy could the most salient aspect, but participation may be less of a driver for the network’s success (in the sense of a participatory approach derived from stimulated individual imitative and not rigidly set).
In any event, and whatever the shape or form of the telecentre network, thinking about and driving the interactions of these areas of work is useful for managing a network properly. A TCN manager can base key decisions on expected consequences from the direct/indirect effects of such interactions. It will be as if s/he and her officers are facing a control panel of a modern ship, and can operate the various handles, levers and switches to set the most appropriate course for navigation. Let us explore these interactions a bit further in their network context.
Virtuous network effects
So far we have said that telecentre network managers have to skillfully navigate through their networks in order to stimulate or entice a whole set of actors (mainly telecentres) to share enough so that the network functions well and keeps members happy – and therefore, stay inside the network. In order to do so, networks need to juggle a set of priorities, as discussed in the previous seven chapters. Fortunately, these priorities are not isolated, and handling one well often has a positive effect on others. This section explores these interdependencies and their related effects.
Some of the overlap that you will have probably noted while reading through the previous chapters is inevitable. The reason is that the issues are inter-related, sometimes strongly so. Let’s take a simple example of a sequence to illustrate, recognizing that there are many possible combinations. Financial sustainability depends on the content and services provided by the network. Those contents and services will be strongly dependent on the level of participation in the network. The participatory scheme will be determined to a large extent by how network governance is carried out. And the capacity and ability of network management will inevitably depend on the financial resources available to the network.
Let us now look at a wider set of interactions, expanding on the key interactions between facets of management described in the previous section. For illustrative purposes, an indication of these interactions is reflected in the matrix below. We focus on a standard telecentre network, without any dominating or special features. Each cell is at the intersection of two issues, indicating how dependent the first one (located in the rows) is on the second one (located in the columns). For example, the cell Financial Sustainability intersecting with Network Governance indicates to what extent financial sustainability depends on network governance. Three values for the interactions are shown: highly dependent (red), somewhat dependent (lavender) and not very dependent (blue).
A detailed consideration of each interaction between each intersecting issue is beyond the scope of this chapter. It is instead meant to provide a simple visual approximation to the relationship between the various issues. Nevertheless, some reflections emerging from the exercise are worth mentioning:
- There is a relatively high level of inter-dependency among the various issues (few of the cells are blue);
- The relationships are not necessarily symmetrical. For example, the content and services provided in a network are highly dependent on network governance. However, network governance depends little on existing content and services;
- The matrix serves to quickly identify how a satisfactory performance in one category can have a range of possible positive indirect effects (besides the effects deduced from direct interaction), that is, the virtuous network effects alluded to in the title of this section. For example:
- Communication depends strongly on participation;
- Participation strongly depends on the style of network governance; and,
- Network governance is strongly linked to monitoring, evaluation and learning.
|Financial Sustainability||Network Governance||Participation||Communication||Content and services||Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning||International TCN Collaboration|
|Content and services|
|Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning|
|International TCN Collaboration|
So for example – and without taking the relationships too strictly or seriously… – we could say that doing a good job in monitoring, evaluation and learning will have an indirect but real effect on communication and participation because of its improvements on network governance. For instance, this would be in addition to the direct effects on communication and participation strategies that can be directly drawn from applying recommendations from M&E and learning actions.
The cumulative effect of direct and indirect effects can become rather substantial because of the high number of inter-dependencies. This elevates the rewards for performing well on each of the categories identified for network management. And it points to the level of virtuous network effects that could be linked.
The matrix exercise provides only a rough approximation, perhaps a good starting point, for a finer level of analysis. Its results will certainly differ from network to network. But it is a valuable management exercise, one that we recommend to you – if possible, together with several of your colleagues in the network. Appendix 10.1 contains a blank matrix for you to print out and analyze on your own – and compare it with the one we have discussed or with the ones prepared by your colleagues.
References and Resources
Denning, S. (2002). Technical Cooperation and Knowledge Networks. In S. Fukuda-Parr, S., C. Lopes, & K. Malik (Eds.), Capacity for development: new solutions to old problems (pp. 229–244). New York: Earthscan Publications. ISBN 1-85383-919-1.
Nath, V. (2000). Knowledge Networking for Sustainable Development. Knownet Initiative, www.knownet.org. Retrieved November 14, 2001, from www.cddc.vt.edu/knownet/articles/exchanges-ict.html
Roman, R. & Colle, R. D. (2002). The Telecentre Environment in 2002. In R. Roman & R. D. Colle (Eds.), The Journal of Development Communication, Special Number on Telecentres and ICT for Development, Volume 12, No. 2. ISSN 0128-3863.
- Or A to M for that matter; we are not implying that the path is between two nearby points.
- And hopefully everyone else in the network too.
- Particularly when a TCN is relatively new, as it will be able to use guidance of other networks that are more well-established.
- There are many jokes that exploit linking a chain of relations in a linear way. For example, about someone who likes the sea; a person who likes the sea will like walking on the seashore; someone who likes walking on the seashore likes to walk barefoot; someone who likes to walk barefoot probably has hippie-like friends; some one who has hippie-like friends will likely have listened to 60s US rock bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But it would be quite a long shot to say thtat because you like the sea, you must be a Greatful Dead or Jimi Hendrix fan. :-D