Innovation is Hard – We Can All Benefit from a Network

Networks come in all shapes and sizes, and they vary in degrees of formality. Even though networking can seem unnatural, connecting in person and online can help us find our joy working in local government.

ARTICLE | Jun 11, 2019
by Michael Davis

The recent Transforming Local Government Conference in Reno, NV underscored an important professional lesson for me: networks have great value and high importance.

I came to this realization much slower than I’d like to admit. As an introvert who only in the last five years or so has learned how to flex into more outgoing behaviors, “networking” always rubbed me the wrong way. It conjured images of cocktail parties, backslapping and tiring small talk. And I have little patience for that brand of tedium.

But because of some very rewarding professional opportunities, I’ve been able to redefine “networking” as something that’s richer, deeper and more in keeping with the earnestness I at least seek to live into as a local government professional.

The first TLG I attended, 2016’s conference in St. Paul, was a blast, but I only knew a few folks. Over the last four years, I’ve had the privilege to go to TLG in Tulsa, Tacoma and, just recently, Reno. And, over that period, the experience has gotten much more enjoyable as I’ve gotten to know more and more fellow professionals who also are grappling with the challenges and opportunities of local government innovation and change management. We reconnect and bond over local beers and baseball in our host cities (Go Minnesota Twins! And let’s hear it for the Reno Aces!). And we’re constantly adding to our network, year after year.

A conference is only three days a year, but fortunately other forums exist for intentional network building. For me, Alliance’s nextERA advisory group has been a valuable constellation of like-minded change agents in local government across North America. We serve as a strategic advisory collective to Alliance, acting as a sounding board as the organization considers new products, services and directions.

Our group members also help each other by sharing resources and information about our work in our various towns, cities and counties. Regularly, nextERA members send out emails to the group requesting input and information on topics as varied as implementing loose leaf collection and addressing the opioid crisis. We also cheer each other for career and personal milestones and achievements like promotions, marriages and the birth of children. We’ve gotten to know each other not just as professionals, but as people with quirky and endearing personalities. That’s helped form a sense of community and trust.

If that sounds like the type of group you like and the sort of network you could give back to, then you’re in luck: nextERA is seeking membership interest through June 14. Please go to this site to express your interest by completing a short form: https://tinyurl.com/nextera2019.

Networks come in all shapes and sizes, and they vary in degrees of formality. In my organization, Durham County, NC, we convene employees to talk about and learn about topics like innovation (through IdeaLab with the City of Durham) and facilitation (through our County Facilitation Network). Regionally, my peers and I come together quarterly in strategy and innovation network convenings hosted by the Triangle J Council of Governments. And, like the Alliance, the organization ELGL (Engaging Local Government Leaders) brings together like-minded local government change agents. They convene folks through national and regional conferences, local dinner meet-ups and non-stop conversations, dialogue and information sharing via social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.

The professional networks I belong to have only amplified my joy for this local government innovation work. I hope you find your people, just as I have. Connecting with my colleagues over the phone and in person gives me new energy and reminds me why I love this vocation so much: it is truly about the people we work with and the folks we serve.

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