#CKX6: On Field Building

When talking about our work in the community knowledge and social change spaces, I often describe CKX as an exercise in field building, so it seems somewhat appropriate for me to use our first #CKX6 to share some of the great resources that have been helpful to us on the journey so far.

But first, what’s a field? and also, what’s field-building?

A field is essentially a community of actors (individuals, institutions or communities) that are working together towards a common goal and using a set of common approaches to achieve that goal. The medical field or economic field are two examples that may jump immediately to mind. Field building is the active coordination of the efforts of those actors and the creation of the conditions for them to be successful.

With those definitions out of the way, on to the #CKX6…

1. The Strong Field Framework

This guide and toolkit from the Irvine Foundation continues to be one of my most-referenced, highlighted and marked-up resources on field building. Proof of that lies in the fact that I’ve not only printed it – double-sided of course – but also dug out my Swingline and actually stapled the printed pages together.

The table below neatly summarizes the five components of a strong field and provides examples of activities and actions needed for each.


The toolkit also offers practical examples of how to go about your field building efforts with two case studies – one at a high-level and a second that outlines a more comprehensive approach.


2. Building to Last: Field building as philanthropic strategy

This report and toolkit from Arabella Advisors takes a similar strategy and approach to the Strong Field Framework, but applies it specifically to the field of philanthropy – and explores why and how a funder would choose to engage in field building instead of funding individual or a portfolio of grants.

It’s a great resource for funders – but I think it’s also quite valuable for a cohort of field-builders who might be looking for insights on how to pitch this type of activity to a range of funding and program partners.


3. How to start a movement

What can a ‘lone nut’ dancing shirtless at a music festival teach you about field building? A lot actually. This TED Talk brilliantly shows you how simple it can be to start a movement – and that it can actually happen in less than three minutes. The biggest take-away from this for me is that leadership is overrated and that followers – especially ‘first followers’ – play a critical role in movement or field building.


4. Health Nexus Network Mapping

A big part of field building is understanding who the actors (individuals, institutions or communities) are and how they are engaged in and connect to each other and the field that you’re building. That’s where network mapping comes in.

Network mapping is a way of visualizing and interpreting connections between actors in a field. Mapping your network helps you understand the relationships and connections between actors – and the process can help identify strengths, weaknesses, gaps, opportunities, clusters etc. that you can leverage or improve as part of your field-building work.

Health Nexus has developed a suite of network mapping tools and resources that you might find interesting. Originally designed with the health promotion field in mind, they’re easily applicable to any field. If you’re interested in learning more about their network mapping work, you can also reach out to Penny Scott on Twitter.


5. Lucy Bernholz

I could easily have made this entire #CKX6 list up with resources, insights and ideas from Lucy Bernholz. A self-described philanthropy wonk, Lucy gets her kicks exploring how we create, fund, and distribute shared social goods in the digital age – what she calls the future of good. She’s one of the co-authors of Building to Last (#2 above) and has also published a great many other insightful articles, posts and reports, many of which are available on her website.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Lucy in person, but would welcome the opportunity to wonk-out with her over coffee sometime with the promise to share what I learn here on the blog.


6. Field of Dreams

It somehow seems fitting to end our first #CKX6 with some literal (read: imaginary) and aspirational field-building. While at first it might seem entirely ridiculous and implausible to build a baseball diamond in a cornfield, as Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) learns in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, sometimes there’s a kernel of truth to the idea that if you build it, they will come.


So there you have it. Our first #CKX6. I hope that something on the list sparked your interest or got you thinking about how you can go about your own field building efforts. If there’s something you’d like to add to the list, please feel free to comment below!

Interested in curating and sharing your own #CKX6 list? Let us know!