The Community-Based Organization Network Strengthening Process

In Malawi, Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are legal entities, registered by District Councils, which implement social development programs in their communities. HIV and AIDS is the focus of many CBOs in Malawi. The Malawi Government’s decentralized structure recognizes one CBO per Group Village Head (GVH). A number of CBOs are located within each Traditional Authority, forming a CBO network that coordinates the activities of CBOs and links them to District Councils. 

BRIDGE II implementation partner PACT, Inc. conducted two Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) surveys in BRIDGE II phase I districts (Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe, Nsanje and Chikwawa districts) and one ONA survey in  phase II districts ( Zomba, Mwanza, Neno, Blantyre, and Machinga) to determine patterns of interaction among CBOs and within CBO networks; held Best Practices Conferences (BPC) to promote sharing of lessons learned, skills and knowledge among CBO and CBO Network members; conducted CBO network strengthening trainings for all CBO networks; supported CBO network review meetings and formed and strengthened the capacity of District Network Strengthening Teams (DNSTs) in all implementation districts.

Process for Conducting Organization Network Analysis (ONA) Surveys

ONA Surveys were conducted in all eleven BRIDGE II implementation districts. The ONA surveys were designed in such a way that they provided learning opportunities for all involved. First, the project developed a network analysis survey tool, which was distributed to participants for their input. Questions in this tool were targeted at capturing the flow of information and resources among and between CBOs and CBO Network members.  Participating CBOs and CBO Network members were later brought together during a one-day session where the survey was administered. The CBO and CBO Network representatives present at the session took the survey individually and submitted their completed questionnaires for analysis. 

The data was analyzed using InFlow, a network analysis software application. InFlow has built-in algorithms that generate network maps, positioning organizations or individuals according to their connections with others.  InFlow also includes a range of performance measurements that can be used to generate deeper understanding and support the monitoring of network development over time. The main output of ONA surveys is therefore network maps that show network nodes and ties. Nodes are the individual organizations within a network, and ties are the relationships between those organizations. Participants were later called to another one day meeting for participatory feedback where the project facilitated discussions with participating organizations and the District Network Strengthening Team on how to strengthen the networks according to the survey results. The ONA maps helped participants to learn about resource hubs and members that were isolated and/or underutilized and formed the basis for discussions on how to draw plans for strengthening weaker areas of the network. Districts that had two rounds of ONA surveys compared maps in the two subsequent years to analyze progress made by members in strengthening relationships among them.   For example, two ONA maps (below) from Traditional Authority Chiwalo in Phalombe district show an increase in the density of networking in 2012 as compared to the 2011 results. The image on the left shows results from the 2011 ONA survey, while the image on the right shows results from the 2012 survey:



Best Practices Conference for CBO Strengthening

The project also strengthened the capacity of CBOs and CBO networks through Best Practices Conferences. These were two-day gatherings of representatives from all CBOs and CBO Networks from BRIDGE II catchment areas in each district. During the conferences, participants learnt from each other and shared expertise on CBO management, resource mobilization, the importance of documentation and how to run effective social and behavior change communication programs. Before each conference, each district formed a task force involving the District AIDS Coordinator, the District Social Welfare Officer, and some members of the District AIDS Coordinating Committee. The task force sent out a call for abstracts to all CBOs and CBO networks for them to submit proposals and express their interest to present their achievements during the conferences. Participants could either share their achievements through presentations or displays during the marketplace—an opportunity for informal networking during which conference attendees could ask questions of presenters and exchange contact information to allow for further collaboration after the workshop. The task force later reviewed the proposals and shortlisted institutions that went through mentoring sessions. This involved the task force helping presenters prepare and package their presentations so others could best learn from them. The first day of the two-day conference involved plenary discussions and formal presentations; the second day was dedicated to interaction through the marketplace.

Process for Establishing District Network Strengthening Teams

A District Network Strengthening Team (DNST) was instituted by BRIDGE II in each implementation district to oversee the network strengthening activities among CBOs and CBO Networks. Each seven person DNST was comprised of the District AIDS Coordinator, a representative from the District Social Welfare Office, some members of the District AIDS Coordinating Committee and CBO Network members. These individuals were trained during a week-long network strengthening training where they learnt how to conduct their own ONA surveys using free software called NodeXL; analyze and interpret results and help CBO network members develop and implement capacity strengthening plans.  DNSTs have been instrumental in supervising CBO networks.