Social network analysis is often criticized for being too static, too far removed from the actors involved and too dependent on expert driven analysis. Often the participants involved in a social network analysis data collection effort never get to see the final outcome.
Participatory network analysis, on the other hand, is a highly participatory approach to mapping out the actors, types of linkages and their level of influence on a problem or situation which you and your team are facing. It is a workshop type approach which is highly visual using paper, markers, colorful sticky notes and a skilled facilitator. The map which is produced in the end represents the collective understanding of the situation of interest of those involved and therefore it is important to involve stakeholders who may have different perspectives. The final map produced may also be digitized and there is very user-friendly software developed for this purpose. Digitizing the maps also deals with the problem of these maps being too static because they can be easily updated as actors change and new linkages are developed.
So, why would you want to engage your team or collaborators in a participatory network analysis exercise? There could be many reasons including:
· To understand better a situation you are involved in or which needs improvement to help guide your efforts before you commit too many resources;
· To get a full picture of all of the actors (individuals or larger entities) who influence the issue or situation at stake;
· To help you and your team uncover the hidden drivers that propel or hold you back from achieving your goals;
· To help you and your team better plan and leverage both your formal and informal influence network.
We are about to embark upon a new year with much uncertainty and a rapidly changing landscape. It could be critical for your operations and your team to take out a little time to map out the situation you are facing. It is usually always a very enlightening experience as the discussions unfold and the map takes shape. Our individual cognitive abilities do not allow us to picture in a snapshot the many nodes and connections of our networks of interest and it is therefore extremely helpful to visualize this on paper. When done in collaboration with others, new insights are always revealed and a more complete picture emerges.
If you are interested in learning more or need a facilitator to help guide you and your team and collaborators through this highly interactive exercise, do not hesitate to contact Kirsten Collins, principal of AdaptivePurpose (www.adaptivepurpose.org) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kirsten is a certified systems practitioner and evaluation consultant with over 15 years of experience working with a variety of clients including non-profits, NGOs and government.