Social Network Analysis
to help identify actors best positioned to positively impact the network
"An actor’s position in a network determines in part the constraints and opportunities that s/he will encounter, and therefore identifying that position is important for predicting actor outcomes such as performance, behavior or beliefs." - Analyzing Social Networks (2013)
WHAT IS SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS?
- A Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a visual representation of the structural characteristics of a network. Specifically, it shows the relationships among actors (individuals, groups, or organizations). Actors are represented via nodes and relationships are represented via edges. Attributes can be assigned to nodes (e.g. org type, sector, etc.).
- Relationships can be analyzed in both visual and mathematical terms. Social network analysis helps us identify actors, their relationships, and the factors that influence their interactions. Network analysis can highlight resource flows and directions of influence. Because the relationships among actors is dynamic, network analysis is an ongoing process and that actively involves local people and organizations.
WHAT MAKES SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS A "SYSTEMS" TOOL?
- SNA is a classic systems approach, measuring complex interactions of actors at multiple levels.Network analysis is a means for understanding the complex interactions that occur among individuals and/or organizations. It helps us understand the nature of those connections, what is “flowing” between them (for example information, power, or financial resources); and the overall structure of all those relationships within a defined network of local actors.
- Networks exist everywhere, whether formal or informal, intentional or unintentional. Often, they naturally emerge when there is a need and a constituency. A network is any distributed system of individuals and organizations that come together to pursue a shared purpose. Networks are structured in different ways and operate through different processes emerging from their relationship-driven nature.
- Network analysis provides both visual maps and mathematical analysis to better understand these networks. For example, at the network level, we can assess the degree of interaction between actors by calculating the network density to determine if connections happen across all the organizations or only among a few of them. At the organization level, we can see which organizations are central or peripheral; if an organization is a broker or bridge with other organizations; or if organizations cluster together into smaller groups (cliques).
- Understanding the current condition of a network helps to better identify opportunities to build upon and strengthen the relationships that already exist, as well as target efforts for weaving together a stronger overall network.
WHEN MIGHT I WANT TO USE SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS?
SNA is most useful for capturing complex relationships, and for capturing the structural characteristics of a network. Beyond identifying central actors within a network, it can provide measures of how tightly interconnected the network is, how fragmented the network is, and to identify subgroups withing a network. All of these measures can help to provide insights about strengths and weaknesses in communication, power structures, and network stability.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORK ANALYSIS?
- SNA is a way of thinking about social systems that focus attention on the relationships among actors in a system.
- SNA is a classic systems approach, measuring complex interactions of actors at multiple levels.
- SNA utilizes nodes (actors) and edges (relations).
- Attributes can be assigned to nodes (e.g. org type, sector, etc.).
- Analysis is conducted at the whole network and individual organizational level.
- ONA is a sub-set of SNA (organizational mode).