Photo Credit: Network coordinators gathered in Colorado for a two-day workshop designed to reflect on and refine our networks’ strategies. From left to right: Emily Troisi (FAC Net), Ashely Juran (FAM), Anne Mottek (AZ FAC), Matt Piccarello (FAC NM), Michelle Medley-Daniel (FAC Net), Rebecca Samulski (FACO), and Hilary Lundgren (WAFAC)

Connecting, sharing, framing.
Scheduling, organizing, illuminating.
Asking hard questions. Co-developing strategies.
Cheerleading, amplifying, elevating.
Holding space. Designing learning agendas and workshops.

Network coordinators are called on to be connectors, facilitators, cheerleaders, strategists, counselors, champions, visionaries, schedulers, logistics specialist, hosts and learning harvesters…and that’s just a brief list of some of the functions network coordinators provide. Ten years ago, you probably wouldn’t have been able to easily find a job as a network coordinator—no one knew what that was. Now, we see them advertised often. Network coordination is an emerging profession that requires a number of technical skills along with the ability to build trust between diverse stakeholders. The role of the network coordinator is being defined by the people occupying these roles; their intentional and visionary work is shaping the sector. Each network—with its unique purpose, culture, governance system, values and vision—requires its own approach to coordination.

Several good descriptions of network coordination have been written: among them, descriptions of the roles of network weavers by June Holley, or this description of network structure and “front of the house” and “back of the house” work, by David Ehrlichman. Given the complex and dynamic nature of this role, what does the average day of a network coordinator look like? By moving beyond the job description, we hope this post offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily work-lives and motivations of our state network coordinators.

The national Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, and the half dozen nested state networks focused on fire adaptation that have emerged, are bonded by a common purpose: to support and connect community-based leaders who are working on wildfire resilience issues. The national network supports state networks with technical assistance, coaching, and pass through funding. Our nested network approach helps provide value and opportunities to people and communities across the United States, amplifying the impact of countless individuals’ work and building local capacity to live better with fire.

What is your favorite part of your job? What motivates you to do this work?

Rebecca Samulski [RS], Fire Adapted Colorado: I love getting to work with so many energetic, knowledgeable and skilled people. I enjoy feeling like I am making a difference by getting to pass along resources and advice on specific topics and create new connections that are going to lead to more effective work. As one of the few people who is employed to have a pulse on evolving fire policy and culture, I am privileged to serve as a conduit of information from the ground up and relaying information back down from Washington and Denver to my place-based members.

Ashley Juran [AJ], Fire Adapted Montana: My favorite part of coordinating FAM is connecting people to help answer questions, provide guidance, and share experiences. Helping to facilitate learning opportunities between network members, diverse partners and the public is key to creating fire adapted communities. I feel fortunate to have members that are innovative and actively engaged in building bridges to expand the partners that are engaged in the network.

Hilary Lundgren [HL], Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network: Our network members motivate me to do this work. When I hear or see WAFAC members sharing their work with other members, asking for their advice, or taking what they have learned through shared experiences and adapting similar FAC practices across the state keeps me inspired.  As a network coordinator I get to follow the threads of work that are creating changes in communities.

group brainstorm.jpg

Network’s require strategy, reflection and adaptation. Here, Hilary Lundgren and Ryan Anderson of WAFAC brainstorm with Michelle Medley-Daniel of FAC Net about programs and projects in the network. Credit: Emily Troisi

Anne Mottek [AM], Arizona Fire Adapted Communities: My favorite part is the diversity of my work and the people that I work with. My work contributes to addressing an issue that has direct impacts on us all, especially in the southwest (wildfire risk reduction and post-fire flooding). I am grateful and humbled that the work that I do is meaningful. I view this work as vital in solving long standing issues that are so critical in our ecological and social spheres. I hope that my contribution is having a formidable effect on improving forest health and reducing severe wildfire risk to communities.

Matt Piccarello [MP], Fire Adapted Communities New Mexico: I love making personal connections in small, rural communities; knowing the fire chiefs and firefighters in a small mountain town and knowing the folks that own the BBQ place that catered a prescribed fire for us. Many of the most impactful fire adaptation strategies are not complicated or expensive, they sometimes just require a lot of coordination and collaboration. I don’t have to personally solve climate change or restore millions of acres of forests on my own to feel like I’ve made a difference—working with folks in a community that experiences wildfire has a big impact for that community and that is what motivates me.

What does a typical Wednesday look like? Who might you work with?

HL: I am always trying to find new ways to track what is happening, finding resources and making connections between our members and/or partners.  As a network coordinator, there are two facets to the work – external (‘front of the house’) such as connecting network members, sharing resources, attending local network member coalition meetings, going on site visits and helping coordinate learning opportunities for members. In order to keep the front of the house working, we spend a lot of time working internally (‘back of the house’).  In this space, we stay connected via WAFAC staff team calls, we provide small awards to support network participation and on-the-ground FAC projects which all require project management (reviewing invoices, drafting agreements, tracking budgets, etc.), and keeping systems up-to-date, such as Podio and our WAFAC website, to keep the information flowing.

RS: I usually check and respond to email, catch up on Podio and the FAC Net blog, and share out something interesting that I find on the FACO Podio space or Facebook page. This is part of my keeping a pulse on things that are essential to the job. Every fourth Wednesday is a board call, so I’m usually preparing for that and by the afternoon, I’ve gotten new direction from my board that I need to follow through on. I work closely with my board, which includes some key state and national partners as liaisons. I also spend time following up with public and private partners, members and not-yet members who get referred to me or who may be working on a specific project and wanting to share their successes. There are many national partners based in Colorado, including Coalitions & Collaboratives, the Community Wildfire Planning Center, and the Wildfire Research Team.

MP: We try and keep updated with new content, so a typical day might include posting a blog update on the website. We have had people respond to our blog posts sharing useful information about defensible space, thinning treatments, and other FAC work they are pursuing. We also host a lot of FAC-focused in-person learning exchanges, so planning for, or attending, one of those events is typically part of the work I do.

Matt and Anne connect about their networks’ strategies

At a recent Network Coordinator’s workshop that FAC Net hosted, Network Coordinators used each other’s experience in “peer assist” activities. Here, Matt and Anne connect about their networks’ strategies. Credit: Emily Troisi

What is one facilitation technique or activity you enjoy using in your workshops?

RS: Troika Consulting is so fun! It is always super impactful for all participants and is amazing to watch them find solutions through peer consultations on really challenging topics in just a few minutes. It’s really hard to end those conversations though, as they usually create a lot of great insight! 

AJ: I’ll echo that Troika Consulting has been a valuable facilitation activity in a few workshops, for the network and other groups. This approach is seamlessly scalable, allowing participants to connect and benefit from one another. 

HL: Personal journaling and creating space for network members to show and share gratitude with each other has been a really wonderful tool for our network. 

MP: Poll Everywhere, because you can get instant feedback from the group and it is a fun way to use polling technology.

What does being a network coordinator mean to you? Do you have any guiding questions or principles that help you keep your vision on track?

RS: As a network coordinator, I try to keep enough of a pulse on what is happening around Colorado and the rest of the country to be able to effectively share information, contacts and resources where they are most useful. The goal is to have members connect more with one another while taking the lead on co-benefit projects that I can just track and support as needed. In my case, I have to balance network coordination with organizational sustainability. [Rebecca is the Executive Director of her organization and the network coordinator for FACO]. I have to find funding to cover my position, build and balance a budget, and lead strategic planning while also providing the value of a network coordinator.

HL: Keeping a pulse on the needs of the network. One of the most important aspects of my job is creating systems (planning and creating experiences for network members to connect, learn, and engage with each other) that provide value to our network members. 

AJ: My current guiding principle is to focus on quality not quantity. At this stage, my intent is to build strong connections between engaged members instead of focusing on increasing the number of members in the network.  The Fire Adapted Montana Learning Network was formed in 2019 so my current goal is to build a strong foundation for the network. 

AM: Although I’m not an official network coordinator, leading the design of a nascent network has been gratifying. In envisioning this network and reaching out to forestry professionals, land managers, fire departments and landowners across Arizona, we have received positive feedback that a state network is welcome and needed.

MP: It means being a catalyst for others to take action. Holding things together and planning at the 10,000 foot view and also helping to make the finer details happen.

Because we work in highly complex and dynamic systems, managing the seemingly unending stream of opportunities and needs within the very real limits of human capacity is one of the most challenging parts of this work. Outside forces are always pushing and pulling the networks (some in positive directions, and sometimes not). As network coordinators, it is our responsibility to work with members to balance the needs and energy of the network with the realities of the systems we are trying to influence. This includes managing funding and organizational needs and pressures, familiarizing people with a “network way” of working and always striving to clarify and make visible the “behind the scenes magic” networks make possible. Successful network coordinators must enjoy hard work and complexity and bring plenty of energy, thought, dedication and love to their work.

Network coordination requires out-of-the-box thinking, adaptability and flexibility, vision and most importantly, constantly reminding yourself of the north star: what is the purpose and value proposition of the network you serve?

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