Recruit the Network

Innovation within systems is a human journey that relies on a clear understanding of the system’s dynamics and its opportunities to innovate. The first step of this journey is to bring together diverse stakeholders from government, business, non-profit, and civil society. These stakeholders, who represent their organizations and communities, could be innovators, investors, intermediaries, change agents, or leaders. You’ll need this broad network to help you understand and map the system you’re trying to change! 

In addition to mapping the system and co-creating the challenge, these stakeholders may eventually become challenge participants, coaches, short-term advisors, judges, or even funders! One of the benefits of broad engagement for mapping and defining the challenge is that these roles organically evolve as sense-making happens. 

The first step is to build this broad network. Here’s how:

Define Your System

What system are you trying to understand or change? What are its goals and limits? This definition will help you understand what type of expertise and perspectives you need in your stakeholder group.

Find the Key Players

Of course, the obvious place to start is with actors visibly part of the system with direct ties.

Bring in those Impacted by the System

Don’t forget the people affected by the system, however. These are people or groups affected by the system but don’t interact with it directly or who (currently) have no power to influence to change it.

Look Outside the System

Include people who know much about the system but aren’t a part of it. These could be academics, industry experts, or experienced outsiders.

Tap Influencers

Remember to include those who can influence the system, like policymakers, business leaders, or influential community members. These people or groups may have limited understanding or even interest, but they do have the power to change the system.

Spread the Word

Use your existing networks, like your professional contacts, organizational partners, or academic institutions, to recruit the network. If your challenge is in a specific field, contact relevant communities, like professional associations, online forums, or university departments. Consider partnering with other organizations to broaden your network. Finally, actively using social media to reach networks is effective, but traditional media can also be effective.

Reach Out to Relevant Communities

However, spreading the word alone will not be enough! You’ll need to actively recruit and engage to ensure the right people are involved. Send personal invites and have 1:1 or small group sessions to discuss the network you want to build and the challenge you want to address.

Ensure Diversity

Innovation and systems thinking are never neutral. Instead, the process embeds participants’ perspectives, potentially creating initial bias. Who is the room? Who’s talking the most? It’s important to include diverse perspectives in your stakeholder group. That could mean people of different ages, genders, races, classes, socioeconomic statuses, and professional backgrounds. A more diverse group will better identify various causes and effects.

Incentivize or Compensate Participation

Offer prizes, compensation, recognition, or other incentives to attract and compensate participants. Consider that it may be more difficult for local organizations or innovators to forgo compensation for their time or travel support, even if they are motivated to participate. Keep equity in mind and ensure people are being compensated for their time somehow. Practically speaking, compensating critical members of your network will ensure they can invest more time, ultimately leading to better results. Consider a range of options for different stakeholder groups and levels of participation, including small grants, consulting fees, honorariums, and travel stipends

Consider using stakeholder analysis tools (such as a Power/Interest Matrix) with your internal team to begin your recruitment strategy. While your initial results will not reflect all of the players in the system or potential challenge stakeholders, they will help you identify a broad range of potential actors to approach initially.

Decisions that will set your direction

  • Who should be at the table to map the system and define the challenge?
  • Who is the ideal challenge participant? Who would make a fantastic advisor, mentor, coach, or judge?
  • What is your core value proposition to participants and partners in this ecosystem?
  • What type of time, effort, and skills are you requesting from network participants and partners?
  • How will you foster community and connection within the network?

People you will need to find your way

  • Super Connectors

Super connectors are individuals who maintain contact with thousands of people in many different worlds and know them well enough to give them a call. They are often at the center of an extensive network and have a knack for making friends and acquaintances in various social, cultural, professional, and economic circles. You’ll need Super Connectors within these systems and existing networks to help identify individuals and institutions.

  • Extended Networks

Often, you’ll need to reach out to second, third, and fourth-level connections to recruit the right participants. 

  • Local experts

Critical systems actors and innovators can be easy to miss! Ensure you’re engaging (and compensating) local expertise to recruit the network actively.

  • Expertise in Stakeholder Mapping & Analysis

This expertise is optional but would be an asset to your team as you recruit the network.

Review your plan for these critical elements

  • Did you define the system with enough specificity to get the right people involved? Were you too specific? Do you need to zoom out to recruit a broader network?
  • Have you clearly articulated a value proposition to those invited to participate?
  • Do you have a recruitment strategy that engages systems actors, people impacted by the system, experts, and influencers?
  • Do you have a recruitment strategy to reach and incentivize relevant stakeholders and innovators in the extended network?
  • Are your recruitment efforts leading to inclusive participation? Do you need to calibrate your efforts to bring in different perspectives?


VilCap, an experienced accelerator/incubator program for social entrepreneurs, came to a similar conclusion on active recruitment being necessary:

“Originally, when we were launching programs, we thought like Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.” We would send out tweets, post blogs on NextBillion and other sites, and talk with other impact investors – and that would be our primary recruiting strategy. We found one thing: great entrepreneurs are so focused on their businesses that they aren’t even reading this blog post! In partnership with the Monterey Institute for International Studies, we launched the Frontier Market Scouts program, sending interns to trade shows, happy hours, online message boards – basically anywhere that great entrepreneurs serving the BoP might be – and found terrific entrepreneurs with BoP solutions who had never heard the term “social entrepreneurship.” We’re thrilled with the results.”

See the warning signs first

  • Think carefully before bringing all systems-related actors to the table! While having diverse perspectives engaging with each other is ideal, the presence of high-powered individuals or institutions may inhibit candid discussion and insights.
  • Remember that many individuals, groups, and institutions will have existing and prior associations. What types of relationships and competition is already happening that might impact your results?
  • Balance engagement with commitment. Think carefully about participants’ time and interests before requesting participation. Create multiple avenues for input and involvement.

These resources can help you on your journey

Use these templates from GKI’s Accelerating Innovation for Resilience Bangladesh program with your internal team to:

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