Today was one of those days when a lot of things came together for me. I am attending a nonprofit technology conference – an event that represents the intersection of my interests in tech and nonprofit management. I had the pleasure of attending a session and then enjoying a luncheon roundtable with Beth Kanter (if you are interested in measurement in nonprofit media and you aren’t reading Beth’s blog, you should be).
This evening I am coordinating a meetup in San Francisco of people interested in program evaluation. We coordinated this via LinkedIn and the attendees span the gamut of members of the American Evaluation Association (I serve as its Executive Director), a couple of people from the nonprofit tech conference – those with a bent towards tech metrics and listening and learning in order to improve technology implementation, and a couple of old friends. Of the 10, I know 3 well, a couple more in passing, and the remaining half not at all.
I thought back to Beth’s blog post on Network Weaving, “the act of taking responsibility for building a network and forging connections between groups or people” from April 7. She extended the concept, originally drawn from groups and organizations, down to the personal level, asking “can you take those principles and use it to connect people in your own professional network?” As I age, and my network grows – both online and off – I realize that this action, that of network weaving, is extremely fulfilling. The objective is not just to expand the network, but to build individual connections among people who will learn from and value one another.
I wanted to take Beth’s idea and think about steps we might take to build these relationships. And, feeding my inner data junkie (or my type-a compulsion, however you would like to frame it), I took about an hour or so to research the attendees for the meetup, to learn more about each person online. Since the arrangements were made through LinkedIn, their profiles were readily available – and a quick google search rounded out my well-intentioned snooping.
I learned things I didn’t know, including about my friends, and found commonalities among those attending – common interests in education programs, graduate schools, health careers, blogging. I am going to dinner armed with something that I really want to know about each attendee, and with a few key pieces of information to help them break the ice with one another. I’m also going with the planned intention of identifying whether there is another person in my network who might benefit from connection to one of the dinner guests, as well as a commitment to active listening for opportunities to nurture the network. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be seen as an adept weaver, a professional matchmaker for the modern age?