Nodes are what or who are connected in networks. For example, in a computer network, the nodes are the actual computers; in a network of roads, the nodes are physical locations. In networks composed of people, these people are the nodes. It is important to note that each person in a network can still represent organizations and communities. In coalitions, for example, organizations connect together via memorandums of understanding or other official agreements. However, even then, the connections within the coalition take place between the people representing the organizations and in this network of people the connections may or strong or weak. In this example, the coalition membership may define the boundaries of a network or it may not.
Ties are what connect the nodes in a network. In network building, strength of ties refers to the cumulative strength of the connections between nodes. To extend the metaphor above, in a computer network, the ties are the Internet connections; in a network of roads, the ties are the roads themselves. In a network of people, the ties are the relationships between participants, which can be weak or strong, based on the presence of Seven Elements of Effective Networks.
Governing the nodes and the ties are protocols that dictate how the ties can be used by people in the network. Protocols help to support the culture of a network, enhance the flow of value and protect the consistency of the network. Protocols can be explicit and transparent or informal and inferred by the culture. They can also be “enforced” by the behavior of the group or by a moderator. For example, a participant of a policy network may be constrained by the rules of protocol from using such a network to campaign for a political candidate, ask other participants to donate to a personal fundraiser, or look for a dog walker. However, such requests might be appropriate in other networks with different protocols.
The final component of a network is its boundary, the extent of the network’s reach. The boundary is the division between those who are in the network and those who are not. When building a new network, it is important to have clear guidelines on who is eligible to be in the network and how people can or cannot cross the boundary to become involved in the network. The boundary establishes both inclusion and network access, and, often if the boundary is narrow in scope (such as an alumni network for a university) then the boundary contributes to the network’s culture or value. (See Setting Boundaries for more information).
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