Using Network Analysis For Evaluation and Design – A Mini Case Study

A social network analysis case study of the Irvine Foundation New Leadership Network

The effectiveness of any collaborative group – whether a network or an organization – is highly dependent on the quality of connections that exist between the participants involved. But how can we quantitatively measure the degree of trust that exists between members of a network or colleagues in an organization? How can we strategically build connections to maximize collaboration across departments or sectors? And how can we increase a group’s collective self-awareness and ability to “see” itself?

Social Network Analysis (SNA) allows us to visualize and evaluate the connections across networks or organizations, including the depth of relationship between participants, the frequency with which they share information, and the perceived opportunities for collaboration.

In networks, SNA can measure the depth of relationship between participants, the frequency with which participants reach out to each other for information or guidance, and the perceived opportunities for collaboration between actors. In organizations, SNA can identify the members of the organization who are key influencers and the degree to which various departments are connected to each other.

For a deeper understanding of what SNA can provide, let’s first quickly review the components of a network map:

A node is any individual or organization in the network. The size of a node is proportional to that individual or organization’s influence.

An edge is a bond or relationship that connects two individuals or organizations. Edges can be assigned a weight depending on the strength of the connection. sna-1

For two years Converge helped design, launch, and lead the New Leadership Network (NLN), a network of diverse, cross-sector leaders for community revitalization in Fresno, California funded by The James Irvine Foundation. The NLN cultivated a tight network of 48 community leaders to find common ground and collaborate together on critical community issues.

SNA proved to be an effective tool helping NLN members identify key influencers and potential connections. Network maps filtered by characteristics such as sector, issue area, geography or ethnicity provided clear “shared displays” helping network leaders and members to evaluate the health of the network and shape their network weaving strategies. 

Getting the Whole System in the Room – Mapping the NLN by Sector

By graphing the strength and density of connections over time, network analysis can evaluate the health and growth of networks far more effectively than raw numbers or first-hand accounts.

We first mapped the New Leadership Network just before its launch in 2013, and continued to conduct follow-up mappings every 3 to 6 months thereafter. As the number and strength of connections grew the network analysis validated that our convening-based process designed to build a strong, trusting community of leaders was working. The network’s density was increasing (a ratio of the number of connections to the number of possible connections in the network), existing connections were getting stronger, and NLN leaders were “closing the triangle” and introducing mutual connections to each other.

We often reminded the NLN members that being on the periphery of a bounded network should not be seen as a negative; instead, these leaders are incredibly valuable to the rest of the network. Innovation does indeed come from the periphery, as it often provides access to new information and perspectives, as well as critical bridges to new networks that the core might otherwise not have a connection with.

However, we also knew the NLN would require representation across sectors and issue areas, such that we had the “whole system” in the room. Analyzing the network by issue area and sector allowed NLN leaders to clearly “see” what issues were represented, guiding their recruitment efforts accordingly. For example, the Network’s first cohort was primarily comprised of education and nonprofit leaders. Consequently, the NLN formulated a targeted recruitment strategy to attract more healthcare, government, and private sector leaders for cohorts 2 and 3. sna-2-1sna-2-2sna-2-3

sna-2-4Weaving the Network for Maximum Connectivity – Mapping the NLN by Cohort

Our goal was never to build separate NLN cohorts, but to catalyze one larger highly connected network of leaders that had the capacity to create citywide change. Consequently, it was important for us to evaluate how well leaders were bonding across cohorts. Continue reading

The Tactics of Trust

Participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground—and it doesn’t have to take years.

Click here for the full article, The Tactics of Trust, as seen in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Winter 2016 issue.

SSIR_Logo_2013Creating the formal structures that make up an ambitious, multi-sector change initiative is one thing. But forging the intangible interpersonal connections that result in authentic bonds among participating leaders is something quite different. Indeed, it is notoriously difficult. “Developing trust among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is a monumental challenge,” John Kania and Mark Kramer wrote in their landmark article “Collective Impact,” which appeared in the winter 2011 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review. “Participants need several years of regular meetings to build up enough experience with each other to recognize and appreciate the common motivation behind their different efforts.”

But what if it didn’t have to take years? What if it is possible to accelerate the trustbuilding process that is essential to any ambitious collaboration effort? We believe that it is possible to build trust quickly—even across a network that brings together highly diverse groups of stakeholders. tactics_of_trust_imageWe don’t mean trust that’s based on liking or agreement. We mean trust for impact. Trust for impact entails the ability to cross boundaries, to find a slice of common ground, and then to work together despite significant organizational differences and sharp personal disagreements. By cultivating trust for impact, participants in a collaborative project can creatively manage their differences and form relationships that enable them to do critically important work.

We developed an accelerated approach to building trust for impact while working with the James Irvine Foundation to launch the New Leadership Network, a cross-sector network of leaders that aims to revitalize the city of Fresno, California.

Click here for the full article.

The One Thing You Need To Collaborate Effectively

Trust-Matters“The fundamental insight of 21st century physics has yet to penetrate the social world,” Peter Senge wrote. “Relationships are more important than things.”

Human systems are effective when the relationships between people are strong and authentic. Consequently, the most important currency in any collaborative effort is trust. But what actually is trust?

Fernando Flores and Robert Solomon, in their seminal book Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, make a distinction between simple trust, blind trust, and authentic trust. Simple trust is the untroubled, unthinking trust that young children have for their parents. Blind trust is the refusal even to consider any evidence or argument that one should not be trusting, the kind of trust demanded perhaps, by some religious cult leaders, or that we might feel in spite of mounting evidence that one’s spouse is cheating.

Authentic trust – what we call “trust for impact” – is concerned with the ongoing integrity of relationships, and is mature, prudent, measured. It is a choice, not a state. It is not dependent on mere familiarity. It is something one does – not something one has.

As they write, “authentic trust in business and politics provides ample opportunity for complex and cooperative projects that otherwise would have been unthinkable. Authentic trust, as opposed to simple and blind trust, does not exclude or deny distrust, but rather accepts it and goes on to transcend it in action.”

While there may be significant beliefs that we do not share in common, authentic trust is all about finding the sliver of ground that we do have in common. It means engaging in generative, constructive, and meaningful ways despite whatever differences exist, allowing us to work together even when personal disagreements arise, and even see our differences as potential assets.

For widespread change to occur we must find a way to choose trust, especially with those who are very different than ourselves. Effective collaboration, not to mention the future of democracy, depends on it.

Participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground—and it doesn’t have to take years. To learn how, read The Tactics of Trust, as seen in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Winter ’16 issue. 

 

The 5 Common Characteristics of Successful Community Change Efforts, from The Aspen Institute

Fresno pic copyThis post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been modified from The Aspen Institute’s publication “Voices from the Field III: Lessons and Challenges from Two Decades of Community Change Efforts”, available here for free download. 

The accomplishments of place-based community change efforts over the past two decades have been mixed – most can show improvements in the well-being of individual residents who participated in programs in their target neighborhoods, some produced physical change through housing production and rehabilitation, some reduced crime, and a few also sparked commercial development. Most can demonstrate increased neighborhood capacity in the form of stronger leadership, networks, or organizations, or in improved connections between the neighborhood and external entities in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. A few can point to accomplishments in policy and systems reform.

However, while these are important outcomes, most of the interventions have not produced the degree of community transformation envisioned by their designers, Continue reading