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Leadership Development Hiding in Plain Sight: The Energy Action Network (EAN)

As part of our Leadership Hiding in Plain Sight theme, we will be featuring innovative leadership approaches in the upcoming LLC monthly newsletter issues.  As we discussed in our New Leadership Development Mindset article, we are interested in identifying, analyzing, and promoting leadership as a process that includes approaches that fall outside of the traditional definition of leadership development that supports individuals (i.e. formal leadership programs with cohorts, etc.)  While we think those traditional programs are important, they don’t tell the entire leadership story.  What is missing are approaches that don’t necessarily operate in a traditional leadership development space, but are certainly supporting individuals and organizations who engage in joint work in the network.  We are also looking at processes that build the capacity of individuals and groups in identifying common purpose and aligning their efforts to achieve greater impact.  Beth Tener, who has been part of the LLC community for years and organizes Learning Circles in Boston, recommended that we reach out to Jennifer Berman, former Executive Director of the Maverick Lloyd Foundation and from 2009 to 2012 the coordinator of the Energy Action Network (EAN) in Vermont.  We talked to Jennifer earlier this week to get the scoop on the EAN network strategy and the leadership dynamics of the network – here is what we found out.


What is EAN?

The EAN network, which was officially launched in 2012, is a powerful network of business, government, and non-profit leaders who are aligned around the goal of meeting 80% of Vermont’s 2030 energy needs from renewable energy and increased efficiency.  Inspired by the success of the RE-AMP network, EAN was founded on two hypotheses: first, that alignment among government, business, and non-profit is necessary to address complex issues like energy; and second, that these issues require a systems thinking approach.


What are some of the early outcomes?

Energy Impacts: According to the EAN 2012 Report, the network has already accomplished some impressive outcomes, including:

  • Influenced the Governor and the Department of Public Service’s decision to adopt the goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050.
  • Offered the first look at specific costs and energy finance needs for transforming the state’s energy system to one based on efficiency and renewables across all energy sectors.
  • Launched and set in motion the idea for convening a high-level state energy finance summit/working session to develop broadly-supported recommendations and supporting strategies for moving them to action.

Network Impacts: Created alignment among diverse sectors and developed a common framework for action on energy in the state.  The group started with 20 individuals and organizations and now there are 70 individuals and organizations involved, representing business, government and non-profits.


What are some of the key elements that differentiate the EAN network from other approaches to energy issues?

The systems mapping approach that EAN took on is certainly one of the key differentiators – a lot of people working in networks are conducting social network analysis, but according to Jennifer, few networks have focused on systems dynamics mapping.  Another key element is the tri-sector approach—creating a space where nonprofit, business, and government work together on a common agenda. Lastly, another differentiator is the fact that the network focused on a really ambitious goal – transitioning Vermont to 80% renewable energy in all sectors by 2030.


How did the network get started?

Even though the network was officially launched last year, the work actually began in 2008, when the Maverick Lloyd Foundation decided to explore a systems thinking approach as a way to create greater alignment among the various players in Vermont.  The work started with a core group of people who realized that together, they could create impacts that were much greater than what any one sector could accomplish alone.  The group started with a visioning process to imagine what might be possible.  Once they had identified a preliminary goal, they began thinking about who else needed to be part of the network.  The criteria for selecting participants included: expertise in a specific part of the energy system, credibility with diverse audiences, willingness to work with and as part of a team, and ability to bring social or political capital to the group. “We started with a very ambitious goal and although some people were skeptical about the need for another ‘process,’ they were excited about the approach we were taking, the audaciousness of the goal and the group of leaders we had around the table.”


The group eventually decided on the goal of meeting 80% of Vermont’s 2030 energy needs from renewable energy and increased efficiency. To accomplish that goal, they identified four areas where on-going coordinated work was needed:

  • Capital mobilization: developing innovative financing models that enable the transition to  renewable energy.
  • Regulatory and permitting reform: developing simpler, consistent, regulatory policies that support the development of renewable energy and faster, more effective permitting.
  • Public engagement: providing clear, concise and consistent messages about energy use across the state.
  • Technological innovation: developing new energy technologies to support a reliable and diversified energy infrastructure.

What is the leadership structure of the network?

The work of EAN is supported by a “backbone organization,” which supports on-going coordination, knowledge sharing, and monitors, track, and assesses work as it relates to the larger systems goal. (Kania et al. 2011)  In 2012, the network developed a Board of Directors and hired its first Executive Director.  Additionally, a Network Coordinator and four work group chairs help manage the work of the leverage point groups listed above.  The following diagram represents the structure of the network:


The Board of Directors is responsible for making organizational and structural decisions, while work/project decisions are the responsibility of the work group chairs.  The entire network gets together once a year, but the work groups meet more often.  To keep the momentum and communication flowing in between meetings, the group uses an online communications platform and is developing a dashboard to track their progress.


What types of skills, knowledge or behaviors enable participants to be more successful individually and together as part of the network?

  • Network competency of the staff: The Executive Director and Network Coordinator play an important role in connecting people from different sectors and helping those who may not always see eye-to-eye navigate their differences.
  • Focus on alignment around the shared goal: The systems mapping process helped the group align around an ambitious goal.  But as Jennifer mentioned, “it’s important to recognize that participants don’t have to agree on everything, as long as they agree on the general direction and key strategies.”
  • Tolerance for emergence:  Systems are constantly changing; being able to adapt and change in response to where the needs are is key to a high functioning network.
  • Focus on relationships: As Jennifer mentioned, “the work of the network isn’t just about action but is about people and their relationships.”  Network convenings are a time for people to build on their relationships, make connections and see new possibilities that can help further the collective work.
  • Taking the long-view:  Systems change takes time and results are not always immediately apparent.  Thinking in longer-time frames helps build the power and momentum to create transformational change.

We encourage you to join LLC in finding and exploring other examples of innovative leadership approaches – please share your ideas!


Kania, John and Mark Kramer. “Collective Impact” Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2011).