Together, shared issues and localized impact naturally result in an overlap of vital interests. The megacommunity approach seems to be the most powerful way to bring these interests into workable, sustainable alignment. But there is no guarantee that a megacommunity will be created. Even when the latent potential is there, a few more decisive features must be present.
Convergence. Before a formal megacommunity begins to coalesce, there must be more than an overlap of interests. There must be a convergence of commitment toward mutual action. It is as if, like a stone poised to roll down a hill, a latent megacommunity must convert its potential energy into kinetic motion.
This convergence may happen spontaneously, as in the case of a natural disaster, when need suddenly intensifies. But most likely, convergence will occur when each separate constituency affected by an issue realizes that its progression has achieved a plateau; that is, when additional efforts do not produce further improvement.
Whenever this convergence occurs, either spontaneously or through deliberate action, something shifts in the community’s capabilities. Instead of continuing to fight each other or to cede authority to some governmental or quasi-governmental body, leaders come together as equals to develop a plan of action. One cannot participate in a megacommunity with the intent to disrupt or undermine the effort. The commitment toward mutual action must be genuine or the megacommunity will not work.
An individual organization may be able to jump-start a megacommunity, but only when leaders of different organizations within the latent megacommunity consciously engage does a true megacommunity begin to take shape. In fact, as the Harlem Initiative shows, a latent megacommunity at first may not even contain all the members it needs. At this stage, the need to reach out for additional, different, and complementary support becomes evident. Although such factors as the Internet enable more convergence among the three sectors, the sectors will not necessarily come together on an active megacommunity level of their own accord. As a matter of fact, the inherent purpose of each sector is often at odds with that of the others, which precludes them from naturally coalescing. If active, complete megacommunities did spontaneously evolve, we would have many more today than we do. Their scarcity is a clear indication that they do not form naturally. They must be consciously made to converge.
Structure. For a megacommunity to operate effectively, there needs to be an explicit formative stage. There must be a set of protocols and organizing principles that bring a degree of order: typically a more resilient, adaptable type of order than the structure one would find in a conventional hierarchical arrangement, or even in a joint venture or public–private partnership. There must be an agreement to use these protocols based on some sense of joint mission. And these protocols must allow for the best use of dynamic tension among the sectors.
Complex issues naturally draw people into networks. As a result, the structure of a megacommunity — based as it is on overlapping issues — exhibits many properties of a network. The shift from the dual-sector public–private partnership to the triple-sector nature of a megacommunity takes us automatically into a networked environment. Becoming part of a network is not only a natural outcome of three-sector engagement, it’s also a welcome one, because the phenomenon of high-performing networks is a guaranteed way to truly galvanize productivity and get results.
The field of network studies has emerged in recent years to analyze and explore the phenomenon. A network, in organizational terms, is a set of connections among people allowing interactions and influences to flow among them over time. Network analyses of megacommunities typically capture the relationships among participants in terms of “nodes” and “connections.” These connections are not legally binding contractual relationships, as we would see in a service-level agreement with a service provider, or the kind of formal agreements that characterize public–private partnerships. Rather, these are relationships forged by the overlap of vital interests and hardened by the commitment toward mutual action. They are as compelling and concrete as the issues on which they are based.