About Networked Improvement Communities (NICs) 0

Overview 1

NIC diagram
Click to enlarge
Source: Engelbart's Bootstrap "Paradigm Map"

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
– Margaret Mead is usually credited

In Doug Engelbart's terms, an improvement community is any group involved in a collective pursuit to improve a given capability or condition. Examples include a professional association, community of practice or consortium, a humanitarian initiative to foster wellness and self-sufficiency, a corporate initiative to innovate management practices, government reform, a local task force to improve our schools, or a medical research community seeking to cure a specific disease. An improvement community that also puts focused attention on improving how it can be ever more effective at solving important problems by employing better and better practices and tools, is a networked improvement community (NIC). 1a

If you consider how quickly and dramatically the world is changing, with increasing complexity and urgency of the problems we face in our communities, organizations, institutions, and planet, you can see the critical importance of boosting the collective IQ of all the ICs that are working on important problems and challenges -- in other words, turning ICs into NICs. To accelerate progress, Doug envisioned representatives from a diversity of improvement communities forming an alliance of improvement communities, whose focus is to help member ICs become increasingly effective NICs. Such Improvement Alliances would field evolving prototype tools and practices to first turn themselves into model NICs, and then help other ICs do the same. NICs and IC/NIC alliances are a key innovation accelerator in Doug's bootstrapping strategy. 1b

The ABCs of ICs and NICs 2

In the diagram upper right: "A" represents how an organization, initiative or society goes about its business; "B" is any activity that improves its "A" activity, i.e. that improves how it goes about its business; "C" is any activity that improves its "B" activity, i.e. that improves how it improves (for more detail see our ABC Model). By definition, an improvement community is a B or C activity; transforming ICs into NICS is a C activity; the function of an improvement community is to serve at the B and C levels; an Improvement Alliance is a "C" activity. An important "C" activity function is to network improvement communities within and across organizations, forming a C level improvement community, aka "C Community" or "Improvement Alliance" of representative stakeholders from a variety of B activities. Organizations can also join forces at the C level to create a more robust C function, forming a super Improvement Alliance. 2a

Networking vertically and horizontally 3

The ABC model provides a context for clarifying the scope of networking we're after. An important role of the C activity is (1) to network vertically with its key B customers, (2) to facilitate its B customers networking horizontally with each other within the organization (by definition this creates an internal C level improvement community), (3) to network horizontally with peers and with C activities in other organizations (the C Community shown in the figure above,aka Improvement Alliance, or MetaNIC), and (4) to network vertically as a customer of its providers. The B level activities perform the same function networking vertically with their A customers, with C activites it is a participant in, with providers, and horizontally with peers and other B activities. Similarly, the A level activities network vertically with their customers, with B activities it partipates in, and with providers, and horizontally with peers other A activities. This is like outside innovation on steroids, applied at the A, B, and C levels of the organization. It is a core competency for boosting an organization's Collective IQ. (An historical note: Early on Doug recognized the importance of this vertical and horizonal networking, for this reason was at the forefront of computer networking and online communities, forming his first NIC in 1969). 3a

A Bootstrapping Improvement Alliance 4

Since the mission of an Improvement Alliance is to innovate how improvement communities work, and the Improvement Alliance is itself an improvement community, it benefits tremendously from using all the tools and practices it is prototyping for the B activities – this is the essence of bootstrapping as Doug coined the term, use what you build to boost the collective IQ of your own group as well as your target groups. In other words, the Improvement Alliance is turning ICs into NICs by explicitly innovating its own dynamic knowledge environment, networking the stakeholders, researching, acquiring, and co-evolving best of breed tools and practices, and incorporating feedback and lessons learned (note this an example of the bootstrapping strategy in full swing). All this activity is captured in its dynamic knowledge repository for access by its members and participants. Innovating how an IC or NIC works is a C-level activity. There is a special opportunity for any IC whose mission includes developing and/or deploying dynamic knowledge tools and practices, to use the tools and practices it builds/deploys, and thus boost its own Collective IQ as a bootstrapping NIC. 4a


Further Inquiry 5