Here is my personal view of the July NetIKX seminar all about Network Analysis.
The speakers were Drew Mackie and David Wilcox. I was not sure if the topic would be relevant for my work but was ready to be surprised. And I was! By looking at both individual applications as well as organisational ones, it was clear that the ideas we were discussing could be adapted to many different situations. The speakers posed a particularly thought-provoking question at the start. Are we getting better at sharing knowledge now we have so many platforms to enable communication?
We began by looking at how you can illustrate networks. There can be intentional or unintentional, or emergent, networks. They are not hierarchies or mind maps, the other diagrammatic form of relationships that we are all familiar with. Mapping social networks, using an appropriate software, can bring insights into the complexity of the relationships within.
The speakers gave a very intense but insightful talk, so to do justice to it, you may want to refer to the audio tape or look at the speakers’ own slides. There are available for all members, on our main website. NetIKX is sorry we can’t share all our resources with everyone, but we have to respect the creators’ copyright.
Network analysis is now used by many organisations. It is used in the health service and social services for investigating relationships between protective and care agencies. It can be used for commerce where small businesses cooperate together. For the military and police, it is seen as a way to fight back at networks that threaten our security. Wherever there are complex relationships and there is value in understanding the communication flows between different elements, network analysis will throw light on what is going on. Kumu, the software used in their demo, could show two way or one way nodes, used coloured nodes to pick out particular identified groups and gave links different characteristics to illustrate importance or other specific features. Looking at the use of network maps was made more enjoyable by the use of cartoons for key people. Using all these features meant that we were reminded that having many connections does not necessarily mean you are well-connected!
Things got interactive when we were asked to play a game. Faced with an imaginary network, each table group was invited to ‘adopt’ a node! Then we were allowed to make moves to help our node gain influence within the network. This was challenging as while trying to work out what would help our own node become better connected, we were also competing against the other groups. A gut reaction was to increase the links to our node, but it could be equally effective to reduce other links to downgrade rival nodes. This led to some very ‘mock-Machiavellian’ scheming! For my table, it was all in vain however. Our node did not shoot to the top of the board. Instead we discovered two other groups were working to promote the same node of their choice and so of course this node had reached the top spot. How like real life!
Looking at the use of network analysis over time was fascinating. Taking the example of an older citizen, we could see a social network changing as their environment altered or as their health changed. This brought home one real life value of this approach. We are all old sometime, or expect to be, and are aware that loneliness can be a problem. Using network analysis, we became more aware of how an older person could build in resilience through their social networks.
The session finished with a table discussion of the question raised at the start. Could this help us in our work or in our own lives? Can we share better as we use ever more platforms that deliver faster, easier communication channels? There is no simple answer, but we had an enjoyable conversation and the outcome was a strong feeling that this was a session that provided valuable ‘take-aways’. The afternoon ended, as always with further networking over refreshments.
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Resources for this seminar.
Three ideas to follow up:
- Go take a look at KUMU. https://kumu.io
This website is simple to join and free, so you can go and look at their network diagrams. One that is fun and most people will know about it is the fundraiser for ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was called the ‘Ice Bucket’ challenge and was taken up by lots of celebrities, raising over $100m. Another network map to view is ‘Hawaii Quality of Life’. You can also set up your own network (or a dummy if you just want to experiment) and get support from their helpline.
- If you want something less active, the speakers recommend a book by Duncan Watts, called Six Degrees: the Science of a Connected Age.
- Or go onto KUMU and chat with other users of the software, including our speakers. They will be delighted to share ideas with you.