Photo Credit: FAC and Fire Learning Network participants listen to Carol Ekarius, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, as she explains post-fire recovery and landscape restoration work during a field tour in Colorado. FAC and Fire Learning Network participants met this week in Colorado Springs for their annual workshop.

FAC Learning Network participants gather once a year to exchange ideas, discuss Network goals and activities, and develop work plans for the upcoming year. This week we are meeting in Colorado Springs, where the Network coordinating team and the hosting hub organization, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, have planned a number of activities, including a field trip to the Waldo Canyon burn area and a neighborhood-at-risk on the outskirts of Woodland Park.  The agenda also includes themed presentations by current and new hub organizations and interactive brainstorming sessions to consider new ways to address gaps in FAC practitioner knowledge.

To help us make the most of our time together, we assigned hubs pre-workshop reading. Each hub and their accompanying local community partner or coordinating group partner was asked to read up on a few Network-related pieces. The reading material includes background information about the FAC Learning Network and the principles behind learning networks.

I wanted to share one particular reading assignment, which I think has applicability to the collaborative work that many of us are engaged in. Leadership and Networks: New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World is available for free through the Leadership Learning Community, a national nonprofit organization that brings leadership development expertise to programs and foundations.  Although the report is primarily written for audiences who run and/or fund leadership programs that develop and support leadership for social change, there are many gems throughout the publication that are helpful for anyone interested in improving teamwork through network strategies.

The report challenges assumptions about traditional leadership models featuring the lone and passionate leader, and provides an alternative mindset focused on empowering many leaders.  Through examples, the report shows how developing the capacity of groups of people and building a network through coordinating actions, learning and collaboration can have greater influence and impact than individual leaders.

Implementing network strategies can help produce population-level results. These strategies focus on building social capital, catalyzing community engagement, stimulating creativity and innovation, bringing projects to scale, transforming systems and fostering greater equity.

We are embracing this kind of network thinking in our FAC Learning Network by encouraging our hub organizations to build capacity through increased and effective partnerships, reinforcing models that recognize group achievements and success, and seeking a bold new vision for positively influencing the future of wildland-urban interface communities. Our model promotes leadership at the local and regional levels, rather than top down decisions, and our Network is designed to share our learning widely among FAC practitioners. By instilling this thinking throughout the new pilot communities, we are looking forward to what the next year brings for the FAC Network!

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