In the last few years, an exciting new science has emerged that is revolutionizing our understanding of the phenomenon of networks. Network theory has discovered that all networks (whether made out of molecules, nerve cells, electrical grids, web sites, or human beings) operate according to the same simple but powerful rules. For example, in all networks (human and non-human), a few nodes stand out as extraordinarily better connected than average nodes. These nodes are called hubs. A healthy network has multiple hubs, all well connected to each other.
However, a network’s health also depends greatly on those nodes located at the “periphery” of the network, with a weaker affiliation or “tie” to those in the “center.” Network members with “weak ties” are important connection points to the world outside of the network. The knowledge emerging from network theory enables us to more precisely build resilient, healthy networks.
A community network uses the knowledge emerging from networking theory to “knit” a specialized type of network that focuses on sharing and developing community knowledge, tools, and processes that support the long-term health of the whole community network. A community network illuminates the existing resources and connections among the communities and provides a forum for new connections to be made and creative community projects to be developed.
In a certain sense, a community network might be seen as a potential community of practice. A community of practice … —one that focuses on sharing and developing community knowledge. However, not all members of the network may want to be involved in sharing and developing community knowledge. For example, some people may just want to participate in community events. Therefore we think it is better to understand a community network as a network that may (and should!) catalyze one or more communities of practice within it.
Leading resource books include Linked, The New Science of Networks by Albert-László Barabási (2002), Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks by Mark Buchanan (2002), and Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger et al. (2002).