Connecting to Change the World

Connecting to Change the World

This review contains a pair of books, Connecting to Change the World (2014), and Connect > Innovate > ScaleUp (2022). They outline the principles, strategies and best practices of collaborative impact networks. They are indispensable for anyone working on systems change and social impact, with nuanced and accessible ways of thinking, filled with wisdom from highly experienced practitioners.

Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing the Power of Networks for Social Impact” (2014)

Connect > Innovate > Scale Up: How Networks Create Systems Change (2022)

  • Pete Plastrik
  • Madeleine Taylor
  • John Cleveland

Shapeable was first introduced to Pete Plastrik when working with the Biophilic Cities Network. The strategy outline he provided, working with their program manager JD Brown, was impressive in its clarity and extremely valuable to us - as the platform provider and consultancy tasked with implementing parts of its plan.


There’s a lot of talk about collaboration at scale these days - an ideal of like-minded people coming together to create meaningful impact - the reality of doing this is hard to achieve successfully.

This is why these books by Pete Plastrik, Madeline Taylor and John Cleveland are vital to network-building success. Written by seasoned practitioners, they offer clear, actionable advice about what you need to do and how to plan for it - because getting a group of like-minded people together is the easy part. The hard part is sustaining growth and momentum after the initial burst of enthusiasm. There’s a value exchange which needs to be recognised and honoured. Everyone needs a ‘how-to’ framework and a precise schedule of stages for achieving their objectives. Otherwise, people become burnt by collaborations that don’t go anywhere or whose efforts get sold off for profit. However, if you know what’s expected of you when you start, you also know this process takes time. You can pace yourself and manage the expectations of organisers and contributors for the long haul.

The first book, Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing the Power of Networks for Social Impact (2014), introduced the model of “connect, align, produce” as the core steps for creating impact.

  • Connect asks, ‘Who’s in the network? What’s going on? Who’s available to start connecting with before you do anything together?’
  • Align then says, ‘you have this in common’. ‘You want this outcome and that outcome.’
  • Produce says, ‘Let’s work together because we’ve got these commonalities.’

This breakdown particularly resonated with us at Shapeable, and tightly fits our own process.

The latest book, Connect > Innovate > Scale Up: How Networks Create Systems Change (2022), focuses on scaling up and expanding the original model. Everyone talks about scale, but they don’t understand the dynamic. This book is really saying, ‘observe the process and the pathway to scaling’.

They identify several considerations for success, including:

  • Strategy
  • Complexity
  • Timeframe expectations
  • Measurable goals
  • Membership criteria
  • Convening power of your organisation
  • Stakeholders to represent all the angles of understanding
  • Members’ abilities to act
  • Rightsizing the network


These two books offer a roadmap for network activation and a theory of change via collaborative action. As much as we all want to jump straight to the third step, you still have to do the groundwork in the first two steps; otherwise, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot of your opportunities to scale.

The optimal readers are network builders (in their many forms) and the consultants who work with them.

The authors make their advice plain, practical, understandable, usable, and, therefore, valuable. You don’t feel lost at any point. And they bring examples and quotations from clients that back up their points.

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