Education networks have the power to advance equity in critical ways by building partnerships, sharing resources and knowledge, and collaborating on challenges. But they can also perpetuate the very inequities they seek to address—seen in exclusive power, homogenous membership, and harmful cultures. Network scientists have found that healthy networks are diverse, inclusive, and dynamic. In our experience across the education innovation ecosystem, they are only as effective as they are equitable.
The prompts in this module examine Network Health from an equity lens across four key areas. These reflections can be applied to networks as a whole but also at the organizational level for network members.
- People and Partners – Who is represented in the network? To what extent do network partners equitably represent marginalized communities and voices?
- Culture and Commitment – How do network members experience the network? How does the network listen, reflect, and adapt—acknowledging harm and making real changes to address oppressive practices, policies, and cultures?
- Leadership and Decision-Making – Who accesses, influences, and comprises leadership in a network? To what extent is decision-making equitable?
- Access and Participation – How are resources, opportunities, and knowledge shared equitably across the network? In what ways do marginalized communities participate and experience belonging in the network’s activities?
Many education networks whose members and leaders are majority white or who have been steeped in white dominant culture begin equity commitments with a focus on “increasing diversity” and representation from people of color. This is a necessary but insufficient step if networks are not interrogating and remaking their cultures, policies, and practices. At worst, these efforts can be harmful or tokenizing to marginalized communities.
Education networks are often situated in cultures and contexts that have historically marginalized people, organizations, and communities—chiefly Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, as well as people of color and those experiencing poverty. A social network analysis can shed light on groups that are excluded, inequitable diffusion of information, concentrations of power, and breakdowns of trust in a network.
The principles of network weaving encourage cultivating connections among network members with care and intention. Network weaving through an equity lens requires designing and redesigning a network to recognize inequity and racial harm and build more equitable relationships. At the #EdClusters16 convening, Fatima Jibril, then a senior fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, put it this way: “Don’t just bring people to the table, bring the table to the people.” Doing this may mean rebuilding or moving the table altogether, or recognizing and championing a table already built. The more intentional and bold education networks are in this work, the better they can build more inclusive, equitable networks.
On the worksheet for this module, you’ll find prompts to help you examine equity in key areas of Network Health and identify areas for growth. We also recommend exploring additional resources that will support your work in building more equitable networks and partnerships.