Kayla Brooks on Why and How You Should Be Using Social Network Analysis

My name is Kayla Brooks and I am the Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator at One Earth Future Foundation. One of my primary responsibilities involves measuring the level of collaboration within the networks of our implementation projects. In this post, I discuss how to use social network analysis to measure collaboration and network effectiveness and provide evidence-based recommendations to your stakeholders.

Hot Tip #1 – Introduce program staff to social network analysis early and often.

Guide stakeholders through potential findings and uses of SNA. Inquire about what network information they need to help to move their program forward.

Hot Tip #2 – Use creativity to discover open-source data and collect it systematically.

Ideally, you should survey or interview most, if not all, actors in a network to collect information on their partners and relationships. However, surveys and interviews may not always be appropriate or feasible under some circumstances. Under those conditions, you can collect relationship data through open-source or internal project documents.

Hot Tip #3 – Make your data collection process manageable with the following good practices:

  • Compile an exhaustive list of relevant and specific keywords in partnership with program staff to help in your data search;
  • Perform foreign language searches if dealing with international networks; and,
  • Cross-reference your data with other existing evidence and discussions with program staff.

Hot Tip #4 -Perform regular updates and reviews of your data for accuracy and timeliness

If you are interested in measuring the change of your network over time, update your network data regularly. After each data collection update, verify the new data with stakeholders to ensure its integrity.

Rad Resource – If you are looking for affordable, easy-to-learn network analysis software, check out Gephi. Gephi is a point-and-click tool that both visualizes and analyzes network data in a single platform without requiring advanced programming skills.

Lesson Learned – Use surveys and interviews to uncover hidden details behind relationships.

Surveying or interviewing network participants can help to fill gaps where archival data falls short, such as participant motivations for being a member of the network or perceptions about the quality of relationships in the network. Surveying or interviewing network participants can also identify actors who do not share the objectives of others in the network, informing strategic decisions to perhaps dissolve certain relationships and improve network effectiveness.

Survey and interview data can also help you develop detailed profiles of stakeholders. Once important actors within the network are identified, it may be useful to assess their strategic importance through approaches like stakeholder mapping.

Good luck using social network analysis, and remember, it’s always helpful to start with a well-formulated plan that outlines why you are using it and how it will further your stakeholders’ goals.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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