The Chessboard and the Web by Anne-Marie Slaughter
While reading the Chessboard and the Web: strategies of connection in a networked world, it became evident just how connected the world has become. It is easy to spot the personal connections we have thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and every other social media website, but networks exist in the private sector, nonprofit groups, in social movements, and even in government agencies. The most successful enterprises are those that have realized the value of networking beyond their typical circle.
The book begins by explaining the different types of networks and the strengths and weaknesses of each. At an individual scale we all benefit from the connections within our network. We are influences by what our "friends' friends' friends eat or do or think." Connections beyond this typically will not. Our network gives us power by bringing us information. The people we only sort of know are the ones that will give us information we are unlikely to gather on our own which increases our "network density." These same values can be scaled to a governmental level and the same type of connections will provide valuable information to cities and states to better serve their citizens.
When we start to network at a massive scale, we can begin to solve massive problems. Issues such as global warming can be attacked from a thousand different angles. If we tried the old way, the federal government would issue a top down directive and force restrictions in order to reduce our carbon foot print. In the new networked world that we are moving towards, each city takes it upon themselves to participate in the Paris Agreement. In the networked world, it does not matter if our president pulls out of the agreement because each citizen, city, county, or state government can choose to participate through their own network connections, creating a cumulative benefit. One rain garden does not change much, but create a series of rain gardens throughout a neighborhood and you can see real reductions in the amount of stormwater runoff.
Networks are not a formal structure, but are continually evolving and moving in numerous directions. Not one person is responsible for the network, and therefore not one person can destroy it. Each hub functions as part of a series of hubs, all working towards the same goal. There may be one person or group steering the progress of the network, shaping its goals and keeping the participants on track, but they do not have final say on what goes on. "Understanding how to use networks effectively means understanding when to create, deepen, or loosen the relationships between nodes to affect the flow of information and ideas."
The book ends by discussing how the networked world we are entering has and will continue to drive government on a global scale. The planning profession is certainly capturing the value of the networked city by including citizens when planning for the future. They have a say in what goes on and are kept informed by their government officials. Cities like Minneapolis are placing large amounts of information on their website in easily digestible formats. Armed with information citizens can better protect themselves and others. If we know what to look for, we can be better prepared when something goes wrong.
To finish, my favorite quote from the book is "we can keep ourselves safer not by demonizing our neighbors, but by getting to know them again, and by harnessing diversity as a pillar of our security." We used to be a networked society, one in which we knew all our neighbors and worked together. When we started moving to the suburbs, we became a disconnected hierarchy of command. Technology has given us the ability to return to a world of networked connections where we can collaborate, innovate, and expand the boundaries of what is possible.