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by Joan L. Headley
International Polio Network

By definition, a network is composed of independent parts working together as an interdependent whole.

In a network, people who are confronted with a common need realize there is something they don't like and go about creating something they do like.

When Gini Laurie, our founder, received a letter in 1979 expressing concern about the lack of physicians who understood polio survivors' problems, she worked diligently to create something better. She instigated an international conference which met in Chicago in 1981 entitled "Whatever Happened to the Polio Patient?" Both survivors and health professionals shared the platform and began to address the needs.

The special relationship that exists between health professionals and polio survivors is one of the most valued qualities of the G.I.N.I network. There is mutual respect for each other's knowledge, for each other's suggestions, respect for each other as human beings, and respect for each other's right to express an opinion and to disagree. This special relationship is possible because networks are filled with people working to change the world around them, people who support the concept that people control their own lives.

In a network, there is nothing to be won; there are only problems to be solved. Problems which are solved by the personal contributions of many. Networks succeed because all individuals are valued for their contribution at every level. Recognizing that all tasks are important, networks deliberately create a decentralized pattern with many people accountable for the work.

A network is not a rigid hierarchy. Power and responsibility are distributed. Bureaucracies, on the other hand, seek to funnel power and authority and do not recognize - and even devalue - the contributions of those they consider lower on the ladder. Networkers are bound by their common need, experience, and goals, whereas bureaucracies depend on rewards and punishments to bind or capture their members.

Networks are lines of communication that people use to get things done. In opportunity and in crises the word can quickly spread through people powerlines.

Just as power and responsibility are decentralized, so is the flow of information. The flow of information is horizontal, not always from the top down, filtered through a panel of professional experts, but from survivor to survivor; survivor to professional; professional to survivor; and professional to professional. This type of information system is not, however, without its problems, most notably the increased chance of the spread of inaccurate information.

A network is not as concerned with the number of people on the mailing list or the number of people at its meeting, as it is concerned with the quality of the mailing and meetings. People as individuals are valued more than the paper they create.

Succesful individuals in a network are actively involved. A network only offers a place to learn, to interact, and to offer help to others. It offers a place to be curious, to ask questions, to listen, to let others be the expert, and to be the expert.

Networking is exchanging. Receiving is directly related to the amount of giving. Networking is very personal and is a process of building relationships for the long term. The individuals within the G.I.N.I network who further the cause confidently and quietly are sought most frequently for their respected opinion.

Networking involves cooperation not competition; inclusion not exclusion; building coalitions not kingdoms. Networking requires trust and ethical behavior; not manipulation and exploitation.

The G.I.N.I network offers an opportunity for independent parts to work together as an interdependent whole. It offers opportunity for speaking out, for cooperation, and as history can document, for success.

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Document preparation: Chris Salter, Original Think-tank, Cornwall, United Kingdom.
Document Reference: <URL:>
Created: 22nd February 1997
Last modification: 25th January 2010.

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