SNA TIG Week: SNA for Program Evaluation – Dispelling Common Myths by Rebecca Woodland

Hello, my name is Rebecca Woodland and I teach Introduction Social Network Analysis as an AEA pre-conference workshop and at UMass Amherst. Those who enroll in these courses come from all walks of the evaluation field and I feel quite fortunate to have the opportunity to learn alongside so many talented professionals.

What I’ve learned.

Whether people seek to conduct evaluation in health and medicine, education, environmental non-profits, or in any number of other settings and sectors, there are some common misconceptions that seem to exist. I too held many of these misconceptions when I first ventured into SNA for program evaluation.

Myth #1 – SNA is about Facebook, Twitter, etc. and other social networking sites.

A lot of people think that the “N” in SNA refers to “networking.” The reality is that there is no “ing” in SNA. Yes, online social networking can be analyzed using SNA, but SNA is not about the study of social networking per se. In the context of evaluation, SNA is most often about examining relationships (ties) between actors (people/organizations) and how a program’s “network” may enable or inhibit actor access to important resources.

Myth #2 – SNA is only about ties between people.

Perhaps because SNA has the word “social” in its title – it is widely assumed that SNA is exclusively about people. Evaluators are rightly concerned about program effects for individuals, but SNA is also a sophisticated way to examine ties between program resources, inputs, outputs, and outcomes. With SNA, we might examine ties between nonprofits and grant-making organizations, program activities and geographic regions, or policies and governmental groups, just to name a few.  An almost unlimited number of relationships between human AND/OR non-human actors can be examined through SNA.

Myth #3 –SNA is all about creating those cool pictures.

It is true that the production of colorful and dynamic sociograms is one of the most powerful aspects of SNA! However, effective SNA does not have to entail the creation of any pictures. SNA is predicated on matrix algebra – sociograms visually depict results of mathematical computations. Sometimes it is more important, accurate, and useful to tell the story of program cohesion and actor centrality using quantitative network measures and descriptive and inferential statistics.

Rad Resources:

If you find SNA intriguing – check out the following resources. Each text addresses SNA misconceptions and may help you to further incorporate this powerful approach into your evaluation practice.

  • SNA: Methods and Applications by Wasserman & Faust
  • SNA: History, Theory and Methodology by Prell
  • Analyzing Social Networks by Borgatti, Everett, & Johnson
  • Social Network Analysis by Scott
  • SNA: Methods and Examples by Yang, Keller & Zhang
  • The SAGE Handbook of SNA

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Social Network Analysis TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Network Analysis Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SNA TIG members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “SNA TIG Week: SNA for Program Evaluation – Dispelling Common Myths by Rebecca Woodland”

  1. Do you know of any upcoming in-person trainings on SNA in California? Or West Coast generally? Or even an extended e-learning that gets into actually how to plan an analysis and use UCINET or other tool.

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