How to…..Network

Our ‘How To’ series is developed to help start/develop your justice and peace group and are all available on the resources page. 

9. How to network

Identify as many allies as possible. 

There is a danger that small groups of people active in a particular cause become insular and parochial. One goal of the group should be to identify as many allies as possible within the parish to enlist their support and cooperation with the sizegenetics. Another should be a willingness to reach out to other Christian Churches and groups sharing similar concerns, particularly those in the immediate locality. Small groups are vital, but in order to bring about the scale of changes necessary, caring people must combine their resources. In addition, only by listening to others can we sharpen our goals and strategies in order to be effective.

Clarify what your group hopes to achieve from networking, e.g.

  • To create more of an impact in your area
  • To ensure the greatest possible participation of parishioners
  • To unite Christians (and other concerned people) in their response to social issues
  • To tackle structural injustice more effectively
  • To enjoy some sort of exchange with other groups involved in justice work
  • To act in line with modern understanding of mission

Once you have clarified why you want to network, the ‘who’ and the ‘where’ follow logically. The basis for networking may be:

  • Geographically proximity
  • Church structures in your deanery or diocese
  • Local government structures (your local borough or county)
  • Informal contacts (other groups interested in similar issues or doing similar work).

Networking inside the Parish
Identify individuals and groups that ought to be contacted about the issue with which you are concerned because they are in key positions or undertake work which could complement your own. Some possibilities are:

  • Clergy and lay workers
  • People who run the parish magazine
  • Leaders of parish groups e.g. St Vincent de Paul, Liturgy, Prayer, Catholic Women’s League, Knights of St Columba.
  • Those responsible for preparing children for First Communion
  • Confirmation groups
  • Parish Council

Be sure you know why you are contacting them and have something specific to suggest rather than appearingvague, e.g. the Liturgy Group and choir might help to prepare a special liturgy. The Knights and CWL are very experienced fundraisers and could help with pamphleteering, and those who prepare young people for Confirmation might find some of your work useful for their own programmes and could prepare young people to take up social justice concerns.

It is very important not to dictate to others. Ask for their help and suggest a way forward, but be careful not to impose or be judgmental if they do not wish to collaborate at all or at least not in the way suggested. Remember, people are not enemies simply because they don’t put your concerns at the top of their agendas.

Once contact is made with people, it should be kept up and someone could be responsible for liaising with key contacts.

Try to be positive to requests for help from other parish groups and individuals and support as many parish activities as possible.

Networking beyond the Parish
Identify likely allies such as:

  • Similar groups in other Churches
  • Diocesan Justice & Peace Commissions
  • Local clergy and Churches Together groups
  • Support groups of organisations such as World Development Movement, Church Action on Poverty, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Traidcraft, Credit unions, homelessness initiatives, Lets schemes, solidarity groups etc.

Identify other important contacts such as:

  • Local press and radio (See How to … Use the Media section)
  • Media personalities who live in your area
  • Local MP/MEP’s and local-government politicians.

When you have contacted them, have something positive to suggest. You may, for instance, have invited one of CAFOD’s speakers from a developing country as a guest speaker and feel that social justice groups who relate to Christian Aid and Oxfam may also be interested; or you may want to set up a meeting to look at homelessness in your area which might involve local councillors, a spokesperson from Social Services, the Salvation Army, etc.

When you approach possible allies be sure to have a title and possible dates to suggest and invite the local press to cover any initiative. Respond positively to requests for help and take opportunities to network whenever they arise.

When Networking Is Appropriate
The following could be ideal times to network with other groups:

Special occasions organised by agencies:

  • CAFOD’s Lent and Harvest Fast Days
  • One World Week (October)
  • Women’s World Day of Prayer (March)
  • Mass lobbies of Parliament

Times of particular religious reflection during the year e.g. Advent and Lent

A time of local interest in an particular issue:
e.g. Local opposition to toxic waste dumped in the area.

When Networking Remember

Be positive and helpful. Suggest ways of working that are attractive and encourage others to enjoy the opportunity of collaborating with your group.

Be rational. Try not to be fanatical about the importance of your concerns, yet don’t lose credibility by failing to defend challenges when they come. Remain clear-headed.

Be patient. When making new contacts you cannot presume to know that they will know all about you and the activities of your group – in fact, a major part of your campaigning will be to inform and educate people about things of which they have little prior knowledge. You may have to explain what your campaign is about over and over again. Do it with enthusiasm.

Be efficient. A major reason for networking is to work more effectively. Efficiency is necessary to maintain contacts. e.g. if you promise a photo to a reporter from the local press, send it immediately. Make a careful note of people’s addresses and phone numbers. 

Be prepared to work hard. Making and maintaining contacts takes time. Sometimes the harder you work, the more people are impressed with your efficiency and you end up coordinating a number of tasks. Ensure that one person doesn’t end up doing everything.

Be practical. It is better to select one or two contacts and make a big effort to work with them rather than trying to keep large numbers of people informed of every move your group makes.

Be informed. Do sufficient research to be clear who the key contacts are.

Remember. Networking is a two-way process. Always be prepared to support the initiatives of other groups who are your allies