Mapping your network

Key areas to cover include:

  • What value does each actor add?
  • What are your network’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who is missing?
  • Who is a ‘champion’
  • Which key stakeholders still need to be convinced?
Top Tip: if everyone agrees with you and looks like you, it’s a problem!
Remember: When you gather your community, always consciously aim to be inclusive – and to include a diverse range of different people. This should be an underlying principle, as diversity and inclusion are key elements of the 2030 Agenda.

New relationships

You will potentially have some stakeholders who are already known to you. But you are also likely to want to connect with many new people, too.

Look at which people and relationships are missing from your network, so you can generate a bird’s eye view. Remember to test your assumptions. Who might you have missed? Cross-check with others – never hesitate to share your analysis with other people.

Start by looking at who’s active on the SDGs, but then go more granular in terms of understanding what drives them and what their mandates are. What are their incentives (or lack of incentives) to collaborate and engage?

Building relationships

To build a community, you need to start by being genuinely interested in what others are doing, before you can expect them to show an interest in you. Seek to understand their constraints, priorities and challenges before you seek their inputs.

The reality is that it takes a lot of time to build relationships, so you would be wise to plan for this. If you want to connect with people, go to a lot of the events that are happening in your community, so that you know why they're happening and what other people are doing.

Always remember to treat people like human beings. Support their efforts, and try to get to know them as people. Remember - when you are trying to create a community, you need to be approachable.

It’s best to start small and informally, with people likely to support the SDGs – and your specific focus. Later on, you can start to talk to people you have to convince (e.g. potential sceptics) but at the start, it’s best to prioritise people who want to engage.

Test your ideas

Once you have established some relationships, the key thing at this stage is to get feedback on your basic assumptions.

Gather feedback BEFORE starting to actively convene a community around the SDGs, in order to advance your Goals.

It’s time to start testing your ideas with other people – and the act of doing so brings its own benefits, whatever feedback you get, as people like to be consulted. Run your current assumptions past an informed audience, and carefully note their ideas, opinions and suggestions.

Tip: Pay attention to who does not agree with your assumptions and approach. Could any of them block your efforts? If so, spend time with them to protect your space to operate. Not everyone needs to be a cheerleader, but take measured consideration of their points.

Suggested Approaches

You may have to ‘start small’ by having coffee with individuals, and just chatting.

Then, once you have built an initial network of people you can talk to, one useful approach is to hold an initial visioning exercise around what you should be doing. Facilitate a meaningful, inclusive workshop to create a trustworthy community space. You can then have a constant dialogue with people, being open about what you know – and don’t know.

The lab format should help with this, as people understand that experimentation means risk, as well as learning as you're going along.

Strive to really listen to the feedback you get, from as many diverse stakeholders as possible. This could take weeks or months – but once you have really listened to what your community thinks about what you have to offer, you will have some invaluable intelligence to reflect on.
Top Tip: If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing! You want people to challenge you, as this is how to expand your knowledge.
When you have mapped your network and you know who is missing, it’s important to be able to bring people on board – to fill the gaps.

In this video, SDG Advisor Kali Taylor shares her personal experiences of how she helped build the network of the SDG Lab.

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Once you have established a network, it helps to make best use of it. So how do you leverage it, to get the most effective results?

You have to identify who’s missing and then proactively reach out to them. If your ‘ask’ is specific to their area of interest they should be inclined to find out more about you and engage!

Academic institutions can be an important part of your network. In this video, SDG Lab Advisor, Mallory Zhan, shares her insights and experience working on the SDGs.

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Now go to the Gathering your Community section of your Blueprint document and add some notes. As you do, consider these prompts:

Who do you now have? Who is missing?

(e.g. you may have universities – but do you have corporations?)
What are the strengths of your network?
What are the common threads?
What are the weaknesses and how can you address them?
What drives your community? What would incentivize them to collaborate?
Who can you collaborate with?

Please consult these links and additional resources to learn more:

  • To get started, it’s important to understand your audience! Here is a tool to guide you through the process via a Workbook developed by the Board of Innovation. We highly recommend starting with a few interviews before you start brainstorming solutions
  • An article explaining more about our work, that we hope provides a useful case study and example of how we facilitated collaboration in Geneva
  • A PDF to assist you with stakeholder mapping
  • An interesting article on how to use and leverage convening power
We’re always interested in benefitting from the experiences of others. If you have any case studies or other learnings you would like to pass on to us, please send them to SDG Lab Geneva.