Align high-performing networks through common goals and shared learning

Align high-performing networks through common goals and shared learning
By Helen Tubb and Isabelle Puchwein Roberts
Jul 3, 2024

A learning-focused approach can build stronger expert and stakeholder networks, resulting in positive benefits for the EU and its citizens.

In political and technical terms, the European Union (EU) is a dynamic and complex institutional environment. Formulating and implementing effective policies across 27 Member States requires the input of many different stakeholders, each with their own multi-faceted agenda and areas of expertise.

Across the globe, expert and stakeholder networks play a crucial role in bringing together people who share common interests, priorities, and challenges. For policymakers, these networks offer the opportunity to work with stakeholders, peers, and others to design and implement effective policies based on practical experience, research, and evidence. But these networks don’t just happen by accident—they need to be supported and nurtured to develop and create tangible impact at policy level.

Why are expert and stakeholder networks so important?

In the context of the EU, expert and stakeholder networks are an effective tool in shaping policy. To be successful, they need to be more than a simple “talking shop.” Ideally, they empower their members to help EU, national, regional, and local policymakers to focus on positively shaping legislation and policy in ways that make a difference to people’s lives. In the context of the EU, networks can do this best through capacity building, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing between members.

Effective networks can grow the capacity of their constituent institutions, organizations, or members by creating an environment in which relationships can be leveraged to access resources and information, exchange ideas, address shared issues, and collectively problem-solve. In that sense, networks can encourage diverse parties to work together to identify or establish best practices, which these parties can then use to influence or steer policy.

Finally, in a diverse setting like the EU, managed networks enable Member States and institutional representatives to exchange and share knowledge in ways that recognize differences yet align in commonalities. This common purpose—and building a strong knowledge base around that purpose—helps Member States work towards mutual goals and objectives.

3 ways we support expert and stakeholder networks

Our experience in this area shows that a multi-faceted approach to supporting expert and stakeholder networks is the most beneficial option for the European Commission and other EU institutions and agencies. This approach can be broken down into three components of support:

1. Network diagnostic and analysis

Clarifying the purpose and goals of an expert and stakeholder network is critical. This allows relevant goals to be set, such as knowledge sharing. To accomplish this, we use adaptable tools and techniques to analyze network maturity and identify potential areas of intervention. By offering bespoke solutions to move the network toward achieving its objectives, we can accelerate stakeholder contributions.

2. Network management and secretariats

Networks need to be managed effectively. We use knowledge management tools and processes—such as shared digital platforms or discussion fora—to tap into the experience of individual member organizations and weave their contributions into analytical products, synthesizing and disseminating the collective knowledge of the network.

3. Mutual learning and knowledge-sharing

It is important to support network members individually and collectively to assess their status and develop customized learning journeys based on their needs and performance aspirations. From events to webinars to collaborative research projects, mentorship, advocacy, and cross-border exchanges, we use a variety of initiatives to foster a culture of mutual learning and support.

The importance of continuous learning

A culture of continuous, mutual learning amongst policymakers and other stakeholders helps drive members to acquire new skills, knowledge, and competencies—and encourages them to adapt to change. Methodologies to achieve this include formal learning, social learning, self-directed learning, and blended approaches as well as non-traditional approaches to learning.

Of course, it’s also critical to recognize achievements within a network. In order to adapt and improve for the future, we should also boost engagement and regularly assess the network’s impact and maturity through evaluation and analysis.

Better networks mean greater outcomes for citizens

EU Member States (and, by extension, the European Commission and other EU agencies and institutions) can benefit from expert and stakeholder networks by fostering growth, collaboration, and expertise among those who can contribute to policy.

When expert and stakeholder networks are supported in this way, it creates a vibrant ecosystem where knowledge flows, connections thrive, and collective growth occurs. In our experience supporting expert and stakeholder networks, we’ve seen how this form of cooperation and mutual learning can help address complex challenges, promote innovation, and create positive outcomes for EU Member States and its citizens more effectively.

An impactful network for practitioners

The European Network of Public Employment Services (PES Network) was established in 2014 to enhance the cooperation between PES in Europe. It was extended in 2020 following a decision of the European Parliament and Council. Its members are the public employment services of all 27 EU Member States as well as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and the European Commission. This network aims to:

  • Look at PES performance through benchmarking.
  • Identify evidence-based practices and foster mutual learning.
  • Promote the modernization and strengthening of PES service delivery.
  • Prepare inputs to the European Employment Strategy and corresponding national labor market policies.

The PES network shows how targeted mutual learning programs can drive more effective, impactful expert and stakeholder networks. For the EU, these types of networks provide a bridge across borders—allowing experts and stakeholders to learn from each other’s experiences, strategies, and successes.

Meet the authors
  1. Helen Tubb, Vice President, Policy Implementation and Programs

    Helen leads policy implementation and programs programs in Europe, with more than two decades of experience. View bio

  2. Isabelle Puchwein Roberts, Director, Policy Implementation and Programs

    Isabelle leads large programs, frameworks, and grant programs across a range of policy priorities in the European Union and United Kingdom. View bio

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