Topic: Challenges of knowledge sharing networks in a European context
Key words: networks; knowledge sharing; cross-country networks; efficiency and effectiveness
Addressing sustainability challenges requires broad and complex knowledge, which is difficult to acquire all by a single individual. Therefore, exchanging and sharing knowledge and experience in networks of different stakeholders seems a promising approach in two ways: i) profiting from experience of others can be beneficial for developing one’s own business; ii) sharing knowledge between a large variety of stakeholders increases the chances of finding best possible solutions to overarching sustainability challenges. In recent years, the European Union has put a strong emphasis on building up thematic networks with the aim to address sustainability challenges in agriculture. Yet, the processes, challenges and supporting factors for network building, in particular networks across countries are so far poorly understood.
This paper analyses the key issues in network building and management based on ten networks built up in the EU project NEFERTITI (“Networking European Farms to Enhance Cross Fertilisation and Innovation Uptake through Demonstration”). Each network team filled in a template structured according to six key factors for network establishment: Network goals, identity and values; Governance: network formation and hierarchies; Knowledge exchange and learning activities; Infrastructure and resources; Monitoring and evaluation; Network maintenance. By means of a content analysis of these documents, we identify several relevant aspects that the network teams framed as relevant and partly challenging in network development and management.
The results show the importance of the impact of the networks, their efficiency and effectiveness for raising interest of potential network members. Networking without at least the promise that practice ‘on the ground’ can be improved by learning from others is not attractive and such networks will soon lose momentum. Motivation of network members has to be genuine to maintain a network, as resources (such as time and budget) are usually limited. We can see a network as the result of a process bringing together individual resources in order to create (additional) resources as a team. This paper will present in more detail how the NEFERTITI networks framed these aspects: individual resources, team resources, and processes, and we will draw conclusions on how these insights can support future development and management of networks.