Published by Angus on 28 May 2009 at 10:34 am
Viewing your community using a network map will help you build a sense of community, and over time help you improve information sharing and collaboration. Here we share some basic features of networks and give you some techniques for do-it-yourself visualization
So why would I want to create a network map?
There are a multitude of reasons why you might want to map your community. Here are just a sample:
- To build a sense of community and shared purpose – when people ‘see’ a networked community they tend to believe more in it
- To discover hidden sub-networks and network connections – to help your members know who to communicate with
- To find people or organizations that are isolated and weakly connected – this could be an opportunity to better integrate them into your community
- To find information bottlenecks – this could be a chance to develop alternative ‘people’ channels for sharing key information
- To assess the community – initial maps can form a baseline against which to compare over time
So what are the basics of a network map?
Source: The Monitor Institute
First let’s get some terminology out of the way. What you are looking at above is a visual representation of a community of about 300 members. Each dot, is a person or in network terminology a Node. A connection between people is called a Link. It’s up to you what you consider a link. It could be being a ‘friend’ on your social website, it could be an email exchange, it could be a mentoring relationship, basically whatever you consider important and can find or create data about. A Hub is a person who has a lot of connections to other people and those people are not connected to each other. It’s easy to find these people because the pattern looks like a starburst. A Cluster is a clique of people who are all connected to each other but with relatively few connections to others. The Core is the bunch of people at the center of your community – the ones who everyone knows and who do most of the work. The Periphery is the out edge of your community – people who are watching, less connected to you and more connected to other communities, they bring in outside perspective and help the community innovate.
So how do I create a network map?
Source: The Monitor Institute, Framework developed by Roberto Cremonini, Barr Foundation
Roberto Cremonini of the Barr Foundation has created a simple framework for planning your mapping exercise. First start to ‘Frame the Problem’. You have to decide what you goal is for the project, who is in your community and who isn’t (surprisingly hard to do at times), what types of relationships/links are important, and what demographic data you want to collect about each member. You should limit your data gathering to what you really need such as a few relationship type questions and a few demographic questions.
Then ‘Collect Data’ usually using an online survey, but alternatively through in-person or phone interviews if necessary given your member’s access to and familiarity with computers. You may also be able to mine an existing dataset – like an email archive. If possible use a closed list of people in your survey so that respondents can just tick off who they know. Don’t aim for perfect – network maps are really conversation starters they don’t need to be 100% accurate or complete.
‘Analyzing Data’ does not have to be high tech. You can just get your key people in a room, put up names on post-its on a white board and start drawing lines between them (see an example here). For complex mapping effort you could consider using ONA Surveys which costs $40/month for nonprofits and then exporting the data to the mapping software NetDraw or Inflow, or NodeXL (a plug in for Excel 2007). None of the mapping software is ‘novice friendly’ and it will take some time to get up to speed but there are consultants and user communities that can help you.
Once you have a few maps, bring together your community to ‘Validate and Discuss’ the results. A couple of questions you might want to ask are: “Who is missing from the map?”, “Who should be invited to our community?”, “What is flowing through the community network?”, or “What is core to the community’s identity?”.
Finally ‘Identify Next Steps’ related to your mapping goal. This often include such things as:
- Sharing your map on your online community group so that new members can better orient themselves
- Finding a network weaver to connect isolated clusters and work together on projects
- Implementing an outreach strategy to bring in new members to the periphery to access new resources and innovation
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