Developing FINN-NET – An example of how to improve structure and organisation of an informal network
FINN-NET has been an informal network in which four large VET providers from Finland (Salpaus Further Education, Jyväskylä Educational Consortium Gradia, Tampere Vocational College Tredu, and Vantaa Vocational College Varia) have worked together to collaborate in EU funded projects, and has been operation since 1995.
The FINN-NET has a supportive, flexible, and collaborative working atmosphere, but strategical perspectives and purpose have not been very clear. The baseline audit completed during the Network of Networks Erasmus+ KA3 project was a starting point to a constructive discussion regarding improving the structure and organisation of FINN-NET.
In the the baseline audit we identified some challenges and points of improvement which included, for example, lack of structure and dissemination material, no clear guidelines, objectives, or purpose. We noticed it was also a crucial problem that the active participants in FINN-NET were mainly international coordinators.
In order to address and fix such identified challenges, workshops were organized with VET leaders. First, each college discussed the issues raised internally, in their own college documenting all opinions to a collective platform. Later, the FINN-NET steering committee worked in smaller groups and summarised the main topics mentioned and drew the following conclusions:
- We found out that FINN-NET’s main purpose is to participate in the Network of Networks activities
- Our own activities would be related to development and quality work as well as staff competence development work which are performed in the international environment.
- We decided that FINN-NET objectives and activities are based on the mutual interests which are found from each college’s internationalisation strategies. The analysis of the internationalisation strategies is performed every two years to adjust the objectives and activities.
- We decided to improve our external dissemination activities and, for example, create a logo and a visual organisational structure for FINN-NET. These two visual tasks are performed by a graphic design student.
Based on these conclusions we managed to find the purpose and the main objectives for the network, thus allowed us to re-write our FINN-NET cooperation contract and the description of our network.
We decided to broaden the participants in FINN-NET by creating cross-disciplinary working groups, in which any staff member from any FINN-NET college could participate. The idea of the working groups is to share good practices and learn from each other, firstly, inside FINN-NET and later potentially with Network of Networks partners. We identified four topics in which we saw the benefit to collaborate and develop together, which we foresee to take 1+ years to complete. The working group topics will focus on guidance, entrepreneurship, sustainable development, and international competence. The kick-off meeting for the FINN-NET working group was in March with, in total 25 participants (mainly teachers and study counsellors). We offered for each working group an example model on how to work together but each working group has flexibility to choose the best ways to work. The working atmosphere was enthusiastic and positive, and we are looking forward to seeing how the working groups evolve in the future.
In conclusion, we have found out the internal development work for FINN-NET has been very fruitful and deepened our cooperation even further. We have now clearer idea of our activities and guidelines which to follow. Together, we are stronger and we definitely see the benefits and synergies on working together as FINN-NET. Working together, we can combine our ideas, strengths and achieve collectively, better results from different perspectives.