About Networked Improvement Communities (NICs) 0

Overview 1

NIC diagram
Click to enlarge
Source: see Engelbart's Bootstrap Paradigm Map for whole series of slides unfolding.

"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

In Doug Engelbart's terms, an improvement community is any group involved in a collective pursuit to improve a given capability. Examples include a professional association, community of practice or consortium, a corporate initiative to innovate management practices, a local task force to improve our schools, or a medical research community seeking to cure a specific disease. An improvement community that puts special attention on how it can be dramatically more effective at solving important problems, boosting its collective IQ by employing better and better tools and practices in innovative ways, is a networked improvement community (NIC). 1a

If you consider how quickly and dramatically the world is changing, and the increasing complexity and urgency of the problems we face in our communities, organizations, institutions, and planet, you can see that our most urgent task is to turn ICs into NICs. To accelerate progress, Doug's strategic vision calls for representatives from a diversity of improvement communities to form super improvement communities, or Improvement Alliances, whose focus is to help ICs transform into NICs, and keep transforming. These alliances would field evolving prototype tools and practices to first turn themselves into NICs and then help other ICs do the same. This dynamic is 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 the organization or community goes about its core business or mission; "B" represents the process by which it improves its core business activity (through the efforts of individuals and improvement communities); an Improvement Alliance is a "C" activity; "C" is any activity that improves "B" activity (for more detail see our ABC Model). By definition, improvement communities operate at the B and C levels. Conversely, any time more than one person is involved in a B or C activity, it's an improvement community. An important function of "C" 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