This template contains section headings, sample content, and prompts for developing a network charter.
Charters serve as the culmination of a network’s initial exploration into why it exists and how it will work together. They can be helpful in establishing the basis upon which a network will evolve. Charters also provide an orienting device that members can reference when considering possible paths forward, when onboarding new members into the network, and when introducing the network to new audiences.
As networks are constantly changing and evolving, any charter should be viewed as a living document, detailed enough to capture the network’s initial agreements and guide its present direction, but also flexible enough to adapt with the network as it evolves. Just as the network’s purpose should be revisited from time to time, so too should the charter.
Charters typically include context for why the network was formed, the network’s purpose and principles, and a high-level summary of who is involved. Charters may also include the network’s priorities or focus areas. Additional operating agreements can be captured in a corresponding document, including governance and decision-making processes, operational structure, and participation agreements.
For New and Forming Networks: Clarifying Intentions
If you feel that articulating a network charter is premature (for instance, in the design stage before the network has convened for the first time) it may be more appropriate to capture the network’s intentions, which could then later evolve into a more formal charter. Click here for a template for clarifying Network Intentions.
The network’s core purpose statement, an articulation of its reason for being. “The purpose of this network is…”
High-level context for why the network was formed and/or short description of the network’s role within its ecosystem. “The network was formed to…”
Guiding Question: Why does this network exist?
The network’s shared principles, its fundamental beliefs about how participants intend to conduct themselves and work together in pursuit of the purpose. “We agree to prioritize and practice the following guiding principles in our collective work...”
Guiding Question: How do we aspire to work together?
A high-level description of who the network is for. “Participants of the network include…” (this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of participants, but rather a higher-level description of who has assembled as the network)
A range of ways that participants agree to engage in the network. “Participants engage in the network in the following ways…”
Priorities (not always appropriate for new and forming networks)
The network’s primary focus areas. “Some of the specific priority areas we agree are critical include…”
Following are additional sections on Governance and Decision Making that may be necessary to incorporate as your network evolves. We have included some suggested language to help get you started, but you should feel free to adapt it to fit your context.
The governance function for the network as a whole is currently fulfilled by a Core Team. Rather than making decisions on behalf of the network, the Core Team frames key opportunities as proposals and presents them to network members for collective decision making on significant matters. The Core Team acts as a thought partner to the Network Coordinator or Coordination Team regarding day to day operations.
The primary responsibilities of the Core Team are:
Coordination is the work of organizing the network’s internal systems and structures to enable participants to share information and advance collective work. Coordinators establish and maintain network operations, support knowledge management, and assist network teams.
In particular, coordinators have four primary responsibilities:
The network makes decisions by Consent. Day to day decisions about minor issues may be made by network coordinators and/or the Core Team as needed and shared back with network members. Significant decisions about purpose, participation, network focus areas, priorities, and resource allocation are brought to the members. The Core Team develops a proposal for a course of action, the network discusses and votes using the Consent method described below. The consent-based decision-making process has three phases: context, clarification, and call for consent:
Context frames the decision to be made: What are the relevant factors? What are the pros and cons that have been considered? What conversations and considerations have already taken place? And finally, what is the recommendation moving forward? Context is presented by those who took part in discussions to formulate the proposal.
Clarification allows for any further questions or clarity needed by network members prior to voting. Facilitators should help ensure that the conversation doesn’t veer toward evaluation of ideas but stays with clarity on what is being recommended. Participants are encouraged to consider whether proposals are consistent with the network’s purpose and principles, and to think in terms of what’s in the best interest of the network as a whole, as opposed to what’s in the best interest for “me” as an individual or as a representative of an organization or special interest.
Call for consent uses a 0 to 5 voting framework when the full group is ready to make a decision or assess the level of support and need for further discussion. First, the facilitator restates the proposal and asks participants to vote. Then, the participants respond with a number from 0 to 5 (using fingers, pen and paper, or other means) corresponding to their level of support. The process can also be completed digitally with polling tools if confidentiality is required, if voting with fingers or paper isn’t practical, or if detailed records need to be captured.
When voting, participants are invited to choose from one of the following options:
The proposal goes forward as outlined if there are only 2s and above. If there are 0s or 1s, options include having real-time discussions to resolve objections or scheduling time for the 0s or 1s to meet with the 4s and 5s to resolve issues and find a way to move forward. When we use consent-based decision-making, proposals are encouraged to proceed as long as they are consistent with the network’s purpose and principles and are unlikely to cause harm.