The effectiveness and efficiency of any group, network, or organization hinges on the strength of the relationships the people in it. Much recent research into social networks has illustrated the role of “social capital” in enhancing performance, spreading innovation, and promoting well-being.
The goal of a network analysis is to identify the relationships among people in a network, develop maps that illustrate patterns of interaction, and use these maps to generate a dialogue that informs strategic and operational improvements.
A formal network analysis uses a survey to gather data from all the people in the network. Software tools can produce both a visual map of the connections and quantitative data that substantiate the maps and their underlying patterns. A map shows individuals as “nodes” and connections as “ties.” Ties indicate an aspect of a relationship:
- How frequently information is exchanged between people
- The people who are most turned to for advice, support, decision-making, idea generation, and so on
The power of the network analysis is in the questions it generates. Although a map may only show a specific point in time, the patterns provide insights and, frequently, “ah-ha” about the underlying structure of the network. Maps often show:
- Subgroups within a network, and the connections (or lack of connections) among them.
- Central people
- People on the outside, or periphery, of the network
There is no “correct” structure for a network. The interpretation of the data and maps produced by a social network analysis help leaders and network members take the pulse of interactions so they can make informed, targeted decisions about how to improve the network’s performance. Actions can include:
- Making connections across disconnected groups
- Acknowledging the roles that central people play and formalizing those roles in some way
- Generating awareness across the network of the importance of making connections and providing the means (face-to-face meetings, social media and technology, and so on) for people to connect and establish trusting relationships
A social network analysis project can provide deep insights into a group, network, or organization. It’s important that the project begin with a clear purpose and commitment to use the results of the analysis wisely and with respect for the people who participate in the survey.