Last week the Voist team joined Forum for the Future, their partners and friends to kick off the festive season with a big, sparkly Christmas party in central London. It was great to catch up with old faces and meet lots of new ones.

As you would expect (at the event of the season for all those working in the industry of sustainability) the room was packed full of passionate thinkers and doers. Forum and their network of like-minded organisations live and breathe sustainable solutions. It is their job, literally, to think up creative and innovative answers to our biggest global challenges while helping businesses across the globe to implement them.

Sally Urwin (CEO of Forum) gave a great round-up speech of 2015 at Forum and listed the key trends for next year. Value Networks was highlighted as one; a framework that Forum has been working on for some time now to help businesses and organisations to better collaborate. Forum are looking into ways in which they can work with businesses across the board to help them better understand their networks.

“The value networks approach is an emerging area of sustainability, but we’ve realised that it helps innovate new business models for new solutions. Our experience shows that a value networks approach is key to tackling challenges too big for one organisation to tackle alone.”

Louis Armstrong (Forum for the Future)

We began conversations with Forum some months back now after we were invited to host one of their Brown Bag lunch sessions.This is where a guest organisation or speaker is invited to join the Forum team for lunch and discuss and interesting piece of work that they have executed. We brought our Mapify work to the table and had a very lively lunch hour with the team discussing the power of mapping networks and the different techniques in which to do so.

The Voist team have felt strongly for some time now, that by visualising and mapping networks of working relationships, we can start to better understand the mechanisms behind successful collaboration. We need to reveal network patterns so that we can better understand where to target intervention. By collecting and visualising network data we can highlight the strengths, vulnerabilities and the information flows that make up these networks. Using the information that these maps offer us we can plot out routes around lessons of the past and signpost new lessons for the future.

“The world is made up of networks. You. Your family. Your friendship group. The place you work. The city you live in. The roads and railways you travel on. Everything about your life forms part of a non-linear, multi-faceted network. So, why is it then that when it comes to business we are still talking in terms of value chains, and not as part of networks or systems? Excuse the pun, but thinking in terms of a value chain is just that, a chain; one which restrains our thinking on how to create value in a sustainable way. By ignoring the complexity, we’re ignoring the opportunity. We need to break free”

Louis Armstrong (Forum for the Future)

Much of Voist’s work and research on networks so far has focused on how best to pinpoint the key strengths of a particular network. An Energy Systems workshop, hosted by Forum and Innovate UK, that we attended a couple of weeks back demonstrated brilliantly what happens when you bring people together to pool collective knowledge and insight. People working in energy, design and sustainability spent a day discussing what our future energy systems may look like and how energy is currently used within the workplace. By the end of the day’s session a variety of ideas, potential solutions and innovative initiatives had been shared. Leaving each attendee with a newly ‘energised’ perspective on future energy use.

Again one thing that seemed to come up in discussion when people spoke about their workplace was the lack of communication between different departments and a lack of understanding or willingness to take on different energy saving suggestions.

Employee engagement is a crucial part of implementation and is becoming an ever more relevant place for businesses to focus upon when considering how to make their organisation a sustainable one. From supply chains, to energy systems to employee engagement all are key areas for business to focus their efforts to make sure their footprints are clean and green – and all of these areas can be examined in terms of networks.

If we unearth, map and visualise these network patterns then we have the opportunity to better understand where to target intervention. We can highlight the strengths, vulnerabilities and the information flows that make up these networks. Most importantly however we begin to better understand and value each component of the network, and the part that each node plays. This ultimately means making best use of collective knowledge.