Building the Frame for the Network (Default Settings)

Networks need clarity around what agreements and policies are present in the network. In many cultures around the world, written and unwritten protocols outline behavior and processes that are expected by society members. For example, Native Hawai’ians have protocol that detail activities when entering sacred spaces or welcome visitors onto their land.   In some cultures, in the United States, it is customary to bring an offering of food or drink when you’re invited into someone’s home for a meal. If you’re unaware of any of these protocols, someone will tell you. Knowing and following different cultural protocol shows respect for the space.

Similarly, in networks there are protocols that allow people to have a shared understanding of expected behavior and practices, these include data collection and privacy policies as well as protocols surrounding who is in the network.


Networks enable rich and open flows of information and data, so it is important to lay out clear protocols and build strong tools to manage data collection. Also, every network needs a privacy policy that clearly lays out what data will be collected, how it will be used, and if it will be shared (and if so, with whom). For example, the Halt the Harm Network clearly states what information will be used, what it will be used for, and with whom it will be shared. See Appendix 2: Sample Privacy Policies for specific examples.

A proactive and forward-looking policy around how privacy and data sharing from the start of a network is essential because it helps build a basic container that people can function within.  In an active and healthy network, sharing information should and will arise as a question so having an initial policy will provide boundaries and inform protocols. When reviewing or developing privacy policies for a network, it is critical to include representatives from your legal and information technology teams. They will have valuable insights into data sharing for your network.


The rules for who is in a network and the ability to define the edges of a network indicate the strength of the network boundary. Inside the boundary, nodes can connect to each other and resources can flow to all the nodes of the network. It is important to understand not only how big the boundaries are in networks, but also how porous they are. If networks facilitate an easy flow of people and information between external networks, they have porous boundaries.

Boundaries of a network should be defined at the outset and enforced over the lifespan of the network. When building a network, rules should be established for how participants join and leave the group. This includes designing the processes for joining and exiting the network, as well as drafting guidelines on the requirements to be a participant (for example, do people in the network need to attend an annual in-person meeting or go through a formal onboarding process?).

When creating a network, there are several questions that can help to set clear boundaries. This information should be made known to people in the network and others involved in inviting people to join. Use this checklist to help define your network’s boundaries:

  1. What are the criteria for a person entering the network? (For example, people must be an educator or artist).
  2. What is the process for becoming part of the network?
  3. What is the process for leaving the network?
  4. Can people in the network invite others to the network, and if so, is there a moderation/review process for their invitees?
  5. Is information about these criteria and processes available for both people inside and outside the network to review?

Throughout the lifespan of a network, it is also important to monitor how well these boundaries are doing their job. It’s important to keep track of whether your boundaries and related processes are working by periodically asking:

  1. Are the boundaries strong enough to protect people in the network? (Hint: If you are regularly having to ask people to leave the network because they are violating protocols, you might need stronger boundaries or more well-defined member criteria)

Networks for Social Change