2019 – the year of the network

A lot of people at the moment are looking at what they achieved in the last decade. The 2010s have been an up and down roller coaster ride for me, made redundant twice and having to reinvent myself and start again in new roles, some of which have worked out and some of which haven’t.

I think therefore I prefer to look back on the last year and what has given me the most satisfaction.

2019 has been a good year. I can point out the success of coordinating learning and development within my current organisation and I can’t ignore the fact that I introduced a new learning management system. Of the 6 LMS projects I have been involved in this was more successful than any I’ve ever worked on. Some of the feedback has been exemplary, but this is not the one area that has given me the greatest satisfaction.

2019 has been a year of networking.

Networks of peers are a crucial part of self-development. To have a group of people to ask questions, share experiences and understand your frustrations is very important. In past roles these areas have for me been sadly lacking and even with a good Twitter network I have felt isolated.  Online networks only have so much and at times it is good to meet together and build rapport which can then be continued online.

So many events, meetings and network meetings however are focused on the major cities. This is, of course, logical as this is where large numbers of people meet. However, when you are two hours by train to the nearest meeting, conference or show, many L&D professionals miss out. In this area I consider myself lucky and Learning Live remains my number 1 event of the year. However, I know many from Wales who are not able to travel any distance to meet up at any event.

A couple of years ago I did try and introduce something here in Cardiff and about 20 people said they would be interested in gathering to talk and discuss learning. The result was an evening spent on my own in a coffee shop deeply engrossed in my Kindle.

10 years ago a group of likeminded professionals from housing associations across Wales started to meet together. It was localised on the South East region but continued with regular meetings taking place. When I joined my current employer, I made contact and a few of us have worked to evolve this network, moving from a formal model to something more relaxed.

2019 has seen this network grow. We started with about 15 people on a mailing list. By reaching out to other organisations this has grown to 38 across 25 housing associations (out of 34 major HAs in Wales).

This is an informal network, operating with some of the tenants of Julian Stodd’s Social Leadership model in mind. Whilst I am one of the key droivers behind the network no one owns it and we have no appointed leaders.

Through the generosity of our IT team I have set up a Yammer dedicated to the group, and collated a shared contact list and outlook contact file. Together these allow us to ask questions, share experiences and recommend solutions.

The great part this networks growth is how it is affecting people away from any formal setting. People are talking to each other in twos and threes about their shared problems. One person in North Wales has challenges with involving some of her staff in Care Homes. Through the network she has made contact with two people in South Wales who also have care provision and they are sharing ideas and solutions between them.  They are not bound by a constitution or a process but by a common interest which they can share to help to find a solution.

Recently a few of us met together, ate mince pies, played pool (I’m sure I’ve mentioned our pool table before) and discussed issues surrounding training maintenance staff. This discussion will continue in the New Year and we are looking at using Skype video to bring in some of our North Wales people.

In turn the North Wales Housing Associations have been meeting and sharing regularly and we are now all joining in these conversations together – looking at the number of awards they won at the National Housing Awards, we have a lot to learn from them.

A combination of technology platforms such as Yammer and Skype (soon to morph to Teams), e-mail and face to face meetings has allowed me to start 2020 feeling more part of Learning and Development than I have for some considerable time.

Happy New Year one and all, here’s to an amazing new decade.

P.S. If you are part of a Housing Association in Wales and not part of the network then please message me. All the more, the merrier

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