Whether as a single person or within a group, the moment comes when you are dependent on the support of other people. There is a certain charm in taking the moment and taking advantage of the opportunities as they arise. But there are also advantages in striving to connect with other people or groups at the beginning of an enterprise. It may help to avoid unnecessary competition and to tap synergy potential as early as possible.
Cooperating and networking with other individuals or initiatives or with local authorities, educational institutions or companies can make the company progress faster and easier. Because cooperation and networking…
… prevents duplication of work.
… makes it possible to get to know new people.
… provides inspiration and motivation.
… enables the joint development of new ideas or solutions.
… enables new opportunities to arise for your own company.
… increases empathy for other people’s efforts.
… helps with self-assessment.
For a better understanding of the different aspects of cooperation and networking, a conceptual distinction is to be made between the two:
- In this case, cooperation is understood as concrete cooperation on a joint project or support in the implementation of a project of one person/initiative by other persons.
- In this case, networking is understood as making people and initiatives known to and connected with each other without necessarily working on a specific project. Rather, it is knowing about each other, supporting each other in promoting the other initiative’s project or sharing successes and failures. The boundaries between the two activities are fluid.
Cooperation as starting point
Starting a business on your own can be strenuous and tiring. Therefore, it makes sense to find allies for your own company right at the beginning of a project. Maybe you have friends or colleagues that may be inspired for your idea. Perhaps there are already groups in the area that have committed themselves to similar ideas and where you can find interested people for your own idea. Here are some groups that are active in many German cities and communities and from whom you can inquire:
- „Regionale Netzstellen Nachhaltigkeitsstrategien“ (RENN)
(Regional Network Sites Strategies of Sustainability)
- BUND (Association for environment and conservation of nature Germany)
- Nabu (Nature and Biodiversity Conversation Union [Germany])
- World Shops
- “Verband der Landfrauen” (Assocation of rural women)
- “Tatenbank des Umweltbundesamt” (“deeds bank” of the Federal Environment Agency [Germany] (Listing of projects that adapt on climate change)
- Transition-Groups in Germany
- Nearby regional energy cooperatives
- Local initiatives at universities or working groups in church communities
The “Essential Guide to Doing Transition” shows skills within a group that are important for the initial phase of a project. Examples are to be mentioned: Organizational skills, creative skills, networking skills, public relations and legal knowledge.
Networking in the further course of an enterprise
Usually, each person is in a network of friends, family or other acquaintances already (village community, neighbourhood, club activities, etc.). For a project, networking also means that you are actively looking for further partnerships or remain open to them in the further implementation of your own goals.
Different forms of cooperation
In addition to the exchange of information between different groups/people, which demonstrates openness, helps to avoid scheduling conflicts and indicates possible common goals, consultation is the next more intensive form of partnership.
- Consultation between groups enables support on specific issues that cannot be solved alone. It also shows that one’s own company is open to the perspectives of others. It is a good opportunity to obtain feedback on your own project and thus increase its level of awareness.
Another form of partnership is to support other groups/people in achieving their goals (e.g. financially, materially, needed manpower).
The most intensive and demanding form of partnership is the joint implementation of projects. Cooperation should be carefully thought through so that everyone is clear about what is at stake and what each individual may contribute to implementation.
With whom to network?
One way to approach this question is to carry out a simplified form of stakeholder analysis.
Examples for networking partners
- Networking with politicians can create short-term (e.g. democracy life) or long-term (e.g. budget planning) funding opportunities. They may also help to provide rooms or areas. It is important to bear in mind that politicians also have their own interests. It is therefore important to clarify in advance in the best possible way which counter-performances may have to be rendered.
- In most cases, companies support with financial donations.
What is a donation?
A donation is a voluntary contribution for a religious, scientific, non-profit, cultural, economic or political purpose. (…) Donations can be in cash or in-kind benefits or in a renunciation of pay for work done (time donation). A donation cannot be linked to consideration. (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spende)
Other initiatives (cooperation partners)
- Cooperation between different initiatives often occurs quite naturally, because the same people are active in different initiatives.
This can also be helpful at the beginning of an enterprise, as the infrastructure of the other initiative may be available. Perhaps, for example, the association structure of the other initiative can be used to acquire funds that cannot yet be applied for at the given time.
Or you can use the premises of the other initiative.
- Private individuals can also support through donations or by providing room.
Beyond the place
- Other people or initiatives in other cities or communities can be important points of reference through their pioneering role – even without having to know each other. Especially in discussions with the authorities, it helps if you can refer to successful projects in other places. In 2016, for example, the TransitionTown initiative in Freiburg tried to convince the city administration of its “House of Commitment”, citing the Bayreuth counterpart as an example.
- It is always a good idea to invite or visit people who have already successfully followed a path that you want to follow.
- Another option is to attend or host a network meeting (see below).
- Become a member of an umbrella organisation, e.g. in Solidary Agriculture, in the Bavarian Energy Cooperatives, e.g. “Bürgerenergie Bayern e.V.”.
First steps towards cooperation
Before contacting another group, you should get some information about the group.
Important questions here are:
What do you like about the other group? How can the other group/person help you? How can you support them? How can one imagine to the other group that the common goals become directly apparent?
First, it is necessary to explore how cooperation can help both parties/groups. To clarify this, an informal discussion should be initially enough to show how both groups function and what both sides hope to gain from the cooperation.
Take note: It may also be a good result to note that the cooperation is not helpful at this stage. Cooperation should not be an additional burden.
Set-up of a cooperation
If you decide to work together, it is worth taking the time for the following aspects at the beginning of the process. If this is not done at the beginning, it will be very difficult to catch up again in the further course of the company.
Development of a common basic understanding
At the beginning it should be clarified what the goals are that one wants to achieve together and what the intermediate steps to achieve them. Are all those involved prepared to take on this effort? Answering these questions can also be written down so that it can be remembered as a partnership or new members can inform themselves about it.
Keep up the good spirit
When it comes to cooperation, empathy should always be sought. The point is,
- to develop a genuine interest for the other group/person.
- not to see the other group/person as a recruit depot for their own group.
- to communicate in a language that everyone understands.
- not expected to agree on all topics/suggestions for solutions.
- To have fun at the common experience.
Either way between which groups/people a cooperation has developed, one should never forget to celebrate one’s own successes. This can take different forms. This can be a simple coffee drinking, recalling the result and the energy that one had to spend for it or to give a larger celebration on the occasion of the success, to which one invites common guests.
|What makes a cooperation successful?||What can cause the cooperation to fail?|
|Clarity about how to work together and how to make decisions.||Clarity about how to work together and how to make decisions.|
|A common vision of what can be achieved together.||The lack of a common vision that inspires and motivates.|
|The common goals are the result of an open and transparent process.||Uncertainties about the different tasks/responsibilities in the cooperation.|
|Respect for and trust between all parties involved.||Too different communication and/or working methods.|
|The project is managed by respected individuals.||There were hidden ulterior motives or competition.|
|Invest time for the partnership yourself.||Not enough time or energy was put into the project from one or both sides.|
|Lack of process reflection, evaluation.|
Stories of success
The group “TransitionHaus” (TH) Bayreuth organized a regional network meeting on a weekend in October 2017, which was attended by other local, regional and supraregional grassroots initiatives. The aim of the meeting was to get an overview of similar initiatives in the region and to learn from each other’s experiences. In summary, the following are a few insights that can be helpful when planning a network meeting. At the meeting, recognition for the work of our own and other initiatives came about as an important effect. By telling stories of successes and failures, new powers can arise. Because when someone sees what I’m doing, I realize what I’ve done myself.
It may be a good idea to set up an openly accessible online document (e.g. a pirate pad) at the beginning of the planning process in which all ideas are collected. For example, an online document allows latecomers to join the organization group. The following aspects can be collected here, for example:
- Who can be invited (including e-mail address)?
- Who may help with financing or logistics?
- Which format is the right one for ‘our’ network meeting?
- Who could be requested as a speaker?
To determine the right time
The first step within the group that hosts the meeting is to determine a time when as many members of the team as possible can attend. These commitments should be very binding, so that the actual organisation of the event does not rest on the shoulders of a few.
Furthermore, local and regional (major) events should be considered when setting dates. If necessary, nationwide meetings, meetings or conferences on the subject of sustainability should also be taken into account in planning. The group in Bayreuth had decided against making an appointment in advance together with the other groups that are to participate in the meeting. The group was unsure how long this voting process would take and whether it would really increase the participation possibilities of the other groups. It can also be a consideration to simply align the appointment with certain people (e.g. lecturers inside).
When clarifying the date, it should be considered, if possible, who the target audience consists of. Since, for example, many grassroots initiatives have a considerable proportion of students, it is advisable not to hold a network event towards the end of the semester.
In the run-up to the planning it was clear that a network meeting – especially if it is intended for small initiatives – must enable a high degree of participation. A weekend is a considerable period of time that must be ‘saved from the mouth’, especially for small initiatives. The benefit of such a meeting must therefore be immediate. Thus, the people of TH Bayreuth had developed a small questionnaire in the run-up to the registration, which asked about the topics desired by the other initiatives.
The advantage of the questionnaire query is that you do not have to spend any more time at the meeting to coordinate all participants. But it is an increased logistical effort. When an online query is made, the results should also be reflected in the group. It is frustrating not to know what happens to information that you have given during the registration process.
Finding the right format
Besides the possibility to participate in the content of the meeting in advance, the Bayreuth group knew that one should not only talk together, but also do something tangible. So that you go home with a sense of achievement. The group has decided to build an “insect hotel” as a joint task.
In addition, a short walk (“walking conversations”) to the local edible city was made. Both activities, as well as the longer breaks for lunch and breakfast, provided plenty of time for personal exchange. These were important moments: It is precisely in conversations between a few people that the atmosphere arises to talk openly about problems and possible solutions, to give each other strength for projects and, in which one tells of what one has already managed to become clear about one’s own successes.
When eating, care should be taken to ensure that it meets the preferences and requirements of the target group. Grass root initiatives may need to respect the sustainability of food (e.g. no meat, regional products, organic food, etc.).
In order to motivate people to come, the “TransitionHaus” Group decided to recruit a well-known speaker for the first evening. This lecture, so the preliminary consideration, should address concrete problems, which the group could have, develop motivation and inspirations for the own work or provide support for the group processes (keyword: heart and soul work). After a short-term cancellation, Steven Strehl from “mein-Grundinkommen.de” presented at the network meeting. As the discussion revealed, this presentation has as much to do with sustainability as common gardening.
The program for the network meeting can be found here.
Searching for organizational partners
The online enquiry and registration, the financial support of guest initiatives on arrival as well as the invitation of a speaker could only be carried out because the group was logistically and financially supported by the federal initiative “RENN.Süd”. This support was not only a direct help in organizing the network meeting but was also an appreciation of the work of all invited groups themselves. Since RENN is active throughout Germany, all sustainability initiatives have the opportunity to ask whether they may support the organisation of network meetings.
- Guide for the use of Social Media (English): http://www.counterpart.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Social_Networking-Guide_to_Strengthening_Civil_Society.pdf
- How to establish networks: https://transitionnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/How-to-build-networks.pdf; https://transitionnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/How-to-create-partnerships.pdf