The project has begun. On 3 March, the Steering Committee of the AgriSPIN project met in the Office of the VLK in Berlin. All the formalities are settled, and that is not an easy job in an EU project like this: thanks to the Danish project management. The spirit is still excellent. We still subscribe the concept ofo building on the experience and insights of the partners. No one pretends to know better than the others. This is co-creation. Beautiful.


The project proposal AgriSpin (Space for Innovations in Agriculture) of the consortium led by the Danes, to which I have contributed, has been honoured. We got a whopping 13.5 of the 15 points that could be assigned at maximum by the reviewers. This means for me 2 ½ years of fascinating work in Europe.

In March 2014 twelve partners from eight European countries met in LEGOLAND, Denmark, to make a project proposal for the European Union. It was an extraordinary meeting, providing a good basis for a nice project: AgriSpin.


How to build a good support structure for innovative farmers? That was one of the questions for which the EU had issued a tender within the framework of the EIP program (European Innovation Partnerships). EIP is part of Horizon 2020, aiming at raising the innovative capacity of Europe significantly. Not only in agriculture, by the way.


EIP assumes that innovations emerge from interaction between stakeholders, including researchers. This feels like a relief, after decades in which it was assumed that researchers invent new things which should trickle down to users like farmers. I think too many researchers still believe this today. The tender calls for four thematic projects and one project that focuses specifically on the support structure: support systems for innovation.


Many applicants for the training course Working with Networks lead to two courses this year




GFRAS puts networks on the agenda in Berlin

Late September the yearly meeting of GFRAS (Global Forum on Rural Advisory Services) took place in Berlin. I had the honour to be invited as key note speaker, to clarify the issue of energy in networks.

What is the meaning of money in living networks?

Sjoerd Robijn starts with an internship under supervision of Rosa Lucassen and myself.

21st ESEE Seminar in Antalya, Turkey

The ESEE (European Seminars on Extension and Education) brings together a network of scientists involved in agricultural advice and extension: the intermediaries between farmers, researchers and other stakeholders.


The last seminar, in 2011 in Finland, was not very well organised. As a member of the steering committee I subsequently posed the question of whether merging with the IFSA  (International Farming Systems Association) would be an option. However there was sufficient interest in the continuation of this 42 years old network. Orhan Ozçatalbas, professor at the university of Antalya, offered to organise the next seminar.


Oups, and now practice!

The learning trajectory “Working by Networks” with the Green Agenda of the Province of South Holland is now 4 months underway. The spirit amongst the 14 officers is great: there is willingness to seek and learn together from each other’s experiences , they are mutually interested and there is joy. In the networks where they are active movement can be registered. I facilitate this network jointly with Rosa Lucassen ( we are a perfect team.


This  is a learning trajectory as I like to see it. The Water and Green Department of the Province has selected 10 pilot projects in which the Province no longer wants to be the “cashpoint at the Malieveld (a famous open field in the Hague, next to the office building, where many manifestations and other mass gatherings are being held). Instead, the Provincial administration wants to develop new solutions for issues of common interest together with stakeholders in society. 


How to measure the effect of a network approach?

Marion Herens works on a PhD research, developing a method to measure the impact of the network approach as applied by NISB.

She was one of the first participants in my training course “Working with Networks” of Wageningen Business School. It inspired her to set up a network programme within her own organisation: the Dutch Institute for Sports and Movement”.

I can now call myself a certified organisation constellations facilitator. From September 2012 to April 2013, I followed the “Organisation Constellations” course at the Bert Hellinger Institute in Groningen. “Systemic work” provides  fascinating methodology to investigate how one can contribute towards the healthy functioning of an organisation. The methodology of family constellations, from which it

A new step for the local energy cooperative

How to stimulate the use of clean and preferably locally produced energy in our municipality: Utrechtse Heuvelrug. In April 2013 the board of our coop signed a memorandum of agreement with three engineering companies in the municipality who wish to profile themselves as sustainable energy equipment providers. Members and other interested clients will be offered advice and an attractive offer for solar panels and other measures to make their homes more environmental friendly.


There is so much on the market nowadays that it is hard for a consumer to understand what is best to do. This agreement is an effort to make it more attractive to come into action. We can only hope that people will find the way this time.


A Bed&Breakfast at its best

When I awoke on February 14, 2013, in a Bed&Breakfast in Groningen, the landlady had prepared a breakfast for me I will never forget. Just imagine: an old Groningen farm in style, the beautiful room, the rising sun through the window, and then a table prepared like this!


The address: Woldring, Willemsstreek 2, 9784 TB Noordwolde

A Network Analysis with stakeholders



How to get enough volunteers to maintain historical estates?


Personnel from ‘Het Landschapshuis’ (foundation for historical estates) in Delft, The Province of South Holland and a few other stakeholders met in February 2013 to make a Network Analysis. I was invited as facilitator.


Workshop during the MVO new year event in Amsterdam Arena, January 17, 2013


Entrepreneurs and governments are progressively collaborating for making a value chain or a municipality more sustainable. Good initiatives are everywhere. If you feel engaged in such an initiative: which stakeholders should be on board? How do you build a network that can make things move? How do you keep such a network healthy and effective?


Finally my new website is online. It has been quite an investment in time, but now all the materials of the FAN approach are accessible on the internet. The next step is to make it a medium for discussion and further research.

It was about time. My old website had not been updated for a long time, and most of the material was not available in English. One year ago I contracted Mathijs Stegink to make a new design, with something lively. He created the animation you see in the homepage header. It is a visualisation of a network, using the theory of the Circle of Coherence, and was a mathematical brain teaser to make.

Having a web design is one thing, but filling it is another. I was actually surprised to find that there was already a lot of content. This spring I got the assistance of Jessica Kelly, a native speaker from Ireland, to edit my English texts. With a background in media, she seemed to grasp the contents quickly and was able to reduce the length of my texts without compromising their meaning. Working together is stimulating.

You are reading the results so far. A website is never finished. I began with the English version, but the Dutch one will follow soon. I welcome ideas for improvement and questions on the content. And if you like it, share it with others.

I hope it will contribute to debate. The tools come to life, not by being read, but by being used whilst reflecting on daily practice. It works best when done together with peers, as it is hard to observe oneself while acting intuitively. I’m looking for ways to use internet for doing so. Any suggestions are most welcome.

Emails to: eelke.wielinga[at]


This was the theme of the June meeting of the Network of Network Professionals in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It turned out to be a useful peer consultation. There were cases studies on a network of public libraries, a “lean innovation network”, and the province of South Holland, which I presented. Together with Anne Marie Poorthuis

Network of Network Professionals

Good initiators are everywhere, and also in my local village. Last year I met Theo Land, a man full of ideas, contemplating a local energy cooperative. How to increase locally produced energy, and become less dependent on the big energy companies? Now his movement is growing fast, and I myself have joined as a volunteer

local energy

In the beautiful environment of the Oortjeshekken resort, close to Nijmegen, the Netherlands, I facilitated a workshop for provincial coordinators of sustainable development programmes. They have to juggle dual roles as financers and partners to people with good initiatives. Representing almost all of the Dutch provinces, these coordinators formed a network called Learning for Sustainable



As an advisor to a school, what can you do when the teachers feel squeezed out? Interim managers and consultants are often confronted with this question. I was invited to provide some energising views to a meeting of the Eduquality network in Amsterdam, on the 30th of May. These education specialists are usually called in


How do people learn in networks? Can networks stimulate learning? And how might that relate back to the organisations these people are a part of? These questions were discussed on the 10th of May during a one day conference in Utrecht organised by PSO and Partos, two organisations which support Dutch NGOs in development work


How do you organise joint activities when you don’t want any of the partners to be boss? And how do you deal with conflicting commercial interests so that all partners profit from the collective endeavour? This spring I had some interesting discussions with Alfred Griffioen. He heads up Alliance Experts, a team of professionals who


alliance exp


It is more than ten years since I wrote “Networks as Living Tissue” and now it is time for a new book.  In January 2012 I spent two weeks in isolation on the isle of Ameland, to work on the text. Actually, this was the second attempt. Two years ago I did the same, and


ameland stick


How do you deal with mutual expectations in a network? What can you do to keep network partners enthusiastic?

PSO (Personnel Cooperation in Developing Countries) came to me with these questions in early 2010. Although networks receive a lot of attention nowadays, tools to deal with them are still lacking. The FAN Approach seemed promising. Would it work in the North-South context?

It is a peculiar coincidence that, within one year, my contributions to the alliance of Woord en Daad and Red een Kind has taken me back to the two countries where I was based for long-term assignments: Bénin and the Philippines.


After travelling to Bénin to conduct a workshop in April, I was then invited to do one in the Philippines, where I lived and worked in the early nineties.  Apparently the centre I helped to get on its feet 20 years ago is still doing well. In this post, I reflect on why.

Phillipinnes Piggie

Working in the Philippines is not at all a burden for me. I have very good memories of the time I lived there with my family in the early nineties.  Therefore I was thrilled to be invited to do a workshop in Manila this year.


The Center for Community Transformation in the Philippines asked me to introduce the Free Actors in Networks approach to board members and core staff. It turned out to be an intense experience for all involved.


The Department of Extension Education at the University of Kiev, Ukraine, celebrated its 10 year anniversary with the seminar "Innovative Processes in Extension: Problems and Prospects". I had the honor to be one of the international experts invited by department head Professor Tetyana Kalna-Dubinyuk, along with colleagues from Italy, Russia, and Turkey.


Kiev Kerk


Finland is where the first seminar  for professionals in extension was being held, way back  in 1973 (see video post  "Professor Anne van den Ban: One of the Founding Fathers of Extension Education"). Hence Leena Savisalo, the organiser of the 20th European Seminar on Extension Education (ESEE), was very eager to get it back to her home country for the jubilee edition.


Looking at Collaboration


What is happening in the quadrant of exchange? What can you do to stimulate healthy debate? How can you bring change to a structure? And what gets people out of their comfort zone and really engaged?

These issues were explored through role play and tested during a two-day workshop in Lunteren on the 5th and 6th of September.

FAN Facilitation Training (Free Actors in Networks) (September 2012)

Prior to the 20th European Seminar on Extension Education in Finland, September 2011, I visited one of the founding fathers of extension education, my old professor Anne van den Ban, in Wageningen. He was the one who inspired me to study human relationships in what was then called Extension Education (Voorlichtingskunde) at Wageningen University.


Anne Van


In June 2010 I was invited to Bethlehem, to facilitate a workshop for peace workers from both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Perhaps it was I who actually learnt the most from it, especially about what anger can do to you. Back home I took the time to write an essay about it, as a support for those who wish to keep their spirit under such difficult circumstances. In June 2011 I sent it to those I had worked with in Bethlehem.




The first course on "Active Network Management" took place in MDF (Management for Development Foundation) in Ede in June 2011. This is the new version of a course which I have been giving since 2006.

Active network management

Exactly thirty years after I started my professional career in Bénin, I was invited to return, to assist in a workshop there. It was a very special opportunity to be there again, and to search for the traces left behind of a project that I had helped get off the ground...


Car village


On May 12th and 13th I supported a workshop in Parakou, Bénin.  This time it was Cees Oosterhuis, from Woord en Daad, who explained the theory of Free Actors in Networks (the FAN Approach) and put the participants to work.  He did it well.


The Dutch NGOs Woord en Daad and Red een Kind are forming an alliance, and the FAN approach is being used to feed the process: first with the Dutch staff, then with partners in Latin America, Africa and Asia.  MDF (Management for Development Foundation) is overseeing the process, and I am consulting on the FAN approach.


Bengamin manager


The expert meeting on Network Approaches and Alliance Management, organised by PSO (Personnel Cooperation in Developing Countries) and MDF (Management for Development Foundation) yielded many fascinating discussions:



Expert Meeting


The Kabarole Research & Resource Centre (KRC) in Fort Portal has a good track record in community development projects and assists quite a number of smaller NGOs in the region. As such it is a valuable partner for Western donor organisations, such as Hivos (Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries).

Uganda Floor

Taking a public bus. The visiting expert rarely gets the chance. Usually there is a fat fourwheel drive with air conditioning waiting. But since I’m the only one leaving the workshop in Parakou at this time, it would be quite wasteful to have such a car making the six hour trip to Cotonou, and returning the following day, just for me. The bus costs just €8.40. As a student, you would always take public transport, and get a taste of real life. Later on you would drive your own car and observe everything from more distance.

After the workshop, introducing the FAN approach to forty-five participants from four West African countries, my job is done. Although others have done most of the work, this Christian community thanked me most warmly, sang for me and blessed me. So if anything was to go wrong, it was certainly not their fault.

At half six in the morning the parking lot is already crowded and buzzy. My driver (of the 4x4 car) had bought a ticket the day before, and that was no luxury. Between all the travellers and people trying to sell all kinds of things, he manages to put my suitcase in the bottom of the bus, after the driver put a peace of masking tape on it with my name. I’m glad to have my sturdy hard shell suitcase, as people are not very considerate.

I say goodbye to my driver as I want to get into the bus early to secure a good seat.

“Yes, that is possible”, he says, but I see him thinking “Why? It’s twenty minutes until departure and much more pleasant in the cool morning air outside.”

This is I only discover in the bus. On every seat there is a piece of the same masking tape with a name. No empty seat. I find my name on the corner of the very last row. Not very spacious, but my backpack fits underneath my legs. I’m lucky. Next to me arrives a young lady. She is not only modest in size, but also in her speech. When she is speaking on her mobile phone, as everyone is constantly doing here, you can hardly hear her. She is not talkative at all.

In front of me comes a mother with a child of a few years old carried on her back. Much more practical than a buggy in a full bus like this. The scarce hair is neatly tied up with colourful elastics. Nowhere in the world do women put so much effort into hairdressing, and you see the most fantastic creations passing by, often enhanced with long strings of artificial hair. So, this starts already at early age. The baby gazes at me with wide open eyes. A white man is definitely not normal.

The mobile phone has changed life here drastically. People usually own two handsets. The networks do not link well to each other, making it cheaper to use two phones instead of one. Hurray for the competitive market!

We are moving. As dawn is clearing, I see huge masses of black wings circulating above the city. They are bats, as big as crows. It looks a bit like a horror movie. Soon they will look for their trees again, but not for a quiet sleep. Under such a tree it is very noisy all day long. This is the price a city pays for waste that is not being cleaned up. The trash can is everywhere. Pieces of plastic wherever you look, and also litter which attracts insects, rodents and bats.

The cool air from the air conditioning in the bus is very pleasant. The largest tract of road, 250 kilometers from Parakou to Bohicon, is excellent. Thirty years ago this was a hazardous “toll road” and the journey took a long day. So that has improved at least. With other things I am disappointed. When I left Bénin thirty years ago I really hoped that one generation later you would see more improvements in the standard of living. What I see today in the countryside and cities is just as poor and miserable as before. Except that now they can call each other by mobile phone.

The bus is driving fast. Traffic rules are simple. The strongest and most brutal goes first. Buses are top of the pecking order. Everyone has to give way. Heavy trucks are the only obstacles for which the bus has to slow down regularly.

Now the aircon switches off. Immediately it becomes hot in the back of the bus. I understand; the bus is saving power to pick up speed again. Yes, now it is on again. But the periods without it become longer every time the bus has to regain speed again. We have to slow down very often, especially for very old ‘bachés; Peugeot 404 pick-ups with linen roofs, the standard public transport before the “taxi brousse” (bush taxi). They are still numerous. Amazing, for it takes a lot of ingenuity to keep these old wrecks rolling.

This would be the perfect environment to start an enterprise for towing, scrap metal and second hand car parts. Wrecks are everywhere along the road, some fresh, others completely overgrown. I have seen how they make new parts by melting scrap aluminium and steel. Not just for cars, but also pots and pans, and gas burners. But the capital to start something new is hard to find, just like originality. It remains marginal.

Unfortunately the windows at the back have been covered with dark foil. I cannot take pictures. For example, of this car, with nine living pigs tied up on the roof, neatly heads to tails, in the burning sun - something these white pigs cannot withstand at all. The Party for the Animals (a Dutch political party) would have their hands full in this country. Chickens are not much better off. Often you see them trussed together by the feet, hanging from the steer of a motorcycle, still alive.

That’s also something which has changed; endless streams of motorbikes. Closer to the city they become more and more numerous. A 100cc motorcycle from China only costs €500. You can buy on credit provided you have a job, and gasoline is very cheap. No licence required, nor registration.  No wonder that anyone with a job wants to have a machine like that. Although quite polluting, it is surely an advantage that they are four-stroke, instead of the two-stroke Mobilettes that were popular before: they were even dirtier.

The gasoline is so cheap because it is smuggled from Nigeria. You see little stalls everywhere along the road. Glass bottles used in the past for local wine are now filled with fuel. Most of them are one litre, but there are also big bulbs of twenty. Sometimes they put a neon light behind them in the evening. Then they light up nicely in green and yellow. But of course it’s terribly dangerous. But who doesn’t want to profit, when regular gas station prices are more than double? Only the diesel cars and four wheel drives stop there, the latter because official projects have to justify their expenditures.

After one hour of driving, the bus stops in the middle of nowhere. It appears to be a short “pause pipi” (relief stop). A few women kneel down in a ditch. It is easier for those with long African robes than for those with jeans, but still more fuss than for the men.

Then we will not stop anymore for a long time. Two hours more make my back side feel like iron. I try to move a bit and find a different position but there is hardly any space to do so. I eat some pieces of dried mango, and offer it to the lady next to me, but she refuses politely; it is too sweet.

The aircon really has problems. More windows are opened and not closed anymore when eventually it revives. Now it has stopped completely. In the back of the bus, windows cannot be opened. Bad luck for me. I am getting soaking wet. I ask the man in front of me to open his window a little bit more. That is already better. As long as the air keeps circulating the situation is bearable. Now there is still a little curtain that keeps the wind flow from reaching me.

Somewhere form my backpack I take a little rope and tie back the curtain with a nice sailors knot. My neighbour looks at it with a face that says “You have to be white to do such a thing”.

At the larger villages there are big chunks of wood on the road. Very effective for slowing down traffic. You have to zigzag around them. There are also many roadblocks where policemen try to generate money. If drivers do not pay, they can be infuriating in their controls. Which car doesn’t have technical faults? The one that paid the police.

We approach a big roadblock. At both sides there is a long queue. We have already passed it when a huge lorry coming from the other side is just passing by the waiting vehicles. My immediate thought is it must be a Nigerian. So many Nigerians have become completely careless about everything. We cannot pass until he has squeezed back into his own lane again. But people are angry and don’t want to give in, so it takes a long time before he gets the space. And then it appears that many others have followed his example. Again it takes forever before we are on the move again.

The heat in the bus is really unbearable. But nobody is complaining. Inside it is completely silent.

We have been on our way for four hours now. No pause for the driver. Nor for my tortured bottom. I ask my neighbour when there will still be another stop.

“Ten more minutes.” is her encouraging answer. But it takes 45. Then we finally reach Bohicon and we can stretch our legs. But what do I do with the valuables in my backpack? I am not in the mood of carrying it with me outside, although that would be prudent. I gamble. It’s in the very last row anyway. Outside I eat my packed lunch, with some cold Coca Cola vendors are selling everywhere around me. But I keep an eye at the back of the bus. That means I cannot reach the shade, which is too far away. By moving I recover a bit. While entering the bus I buy a bunch of small bananas. Very tasty. The lady next to me likes them too (finally). And then we are back en route.

The last part of the road is terrible. Full of potholes, and completely torn apart by all the heavy traffic. In this region they have not voted for the president, people told me. It will remain that way, for he just has been re-elected, I think. But as the only major road from South to North, one would think that there is more at stake than regional interests and politics. But as long as the big bus drives fast it more or less flies over the potholes, and so it does.

Next to me, the whole row of passengers is sleeping. All heads move from left to right in perfect harmony: it is a funny sight. The young child in front of me cannot stand it any longer and starts to cry out loud. Not so strange after sitting still for six hours on the lap of mama, who manages to restore peace with a bottle of Fanta.

Outside, the increasing number of motorcycles indicate that we are approaching Cotonou. Sometimes you see a whole family on one motorbike. One child on the tank, another squeezed between dad and mom, who has a baby at the back, all together zigzagging around the potholes and the traffic.

After seven long hours, I get off the bus at Abomey Calavi, the suburb town of Cotonou where I used to work thirty years ago. My suitcase stands there already waiting for me. That was efficient.

Finally some fresh air. Still 33 degrees and very humid. But everything is relative. I am wet all over. Now I can refresh myself and have some rest before catching my plane home, with a fresh taste of Africa under my skin. Which will not flush away in the shower.

C’est l’Afrique.

Taking a public bus. The visiting expert rarely gets the chance. Usually there is a fat fourwheel drive with air conditioning waiting. But since I’m the only one leaving the workshop in Parakou at this time, it would be quite wasteful to have such a car making the six hour trip to Cotonou, and returning


People with drive and infectious enthusiasm can get others on side. What if society was driven by such people? How would this affect government policy? How could it be adapted to create space for them? The Academy of Government Communication organised a seminar with the above title for civil servants on the 29th of November

National Government

Network processes are veritable voyages of discovery, but why are they monitored and evaluated like chocolate factories? There is nothing wrong with such factories (we all love chocolate after all) but manufacturing operations are fundamentally different to network processes. On October 24th, I had the honour to be one of four speakers in a webinarchocolate factories

How to change systems through research? This seemed to be the leading question of the tenth European IFSA Symposium in Denmark, early July. Can researchers do more than observe and write articles? The International Farming Systems Association meets every second year. It is a community of researchers working with a systems approach. To understand how


Provincial governments in the Netherlands seek a role of active involvement, rather than that of a mere funding agency. To this end, the Province of South Holland have assembled a team of experts to assist in developing a network approach. As part of this team, I bring the tools of the FAN approach.

A training course on “Working with Networks” was organised by Wageningen Business School this autumn.  After the one scheduled in March was cancelled, a sufficient number of nine participants applied for the extra three day course.


They were familiarised with the concepts and tools of the FAN approach over two days in September. Over the following weeks they made a Learning History for a network they were involved in, and returned to Wageningen on the 10th of October to discuss their findings.


words to signal

The learning programme "Working Through Networking" for the Green Agenda of the Province of South Holland is now four months underway. The team spirit of the fourteen officials involved is very good. There is a willingness to work together, to learn from each other, attentiveness and also a sense of fun. Here and there is movement in the network projects in which they operate. I am facilitating this process with Rosa Lucassen, and we work together well.


In early October I was invited to guide a series of training sessions on networking for Danish NGOs in development work, together with my colleague from MDF, Ger Roebeling. How to re-connect with the energy people initially felt when starting or joining those networks became the most important issue.


Particularly in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - or “civil society organisations” (CSOs) as the Danish prefer to call them - the pattern is very clear to see:




In June 2011 the core persons in the PSO action research “Learning Programme on Healthy Networks” came together in The Netherlands to write down their experiences after one year working with the FAN Approach in their NGO’s. (for a summary of this project: “Looking at North South Collaboration”).