Social Network Analysis: Ways to Use


Social network analysis can be a useful tool for both whole networks and individual actors. SNA provides a powerful platform for better understanding:

    • a local system,
    • decision-making on partnering strategy,
    • program design;
    • and evaluation of progress during or at the conclusion of program activity.

The results of an SNA can be used by network actors, project designers and implementers to:

    • customize and calibrate interventions,
    • build-upon existing strengths;
    • and target particular constraints within the overall network.


Social network analyses can be used to:

  • Identify network opportunities and constraints: Conducting an SNA is much like analyzing a value chain. Relationships between actors are mapped-out, visually represented in a network map, and opportunities and constraints are identified. Key bottlenecks and pathways are mapped to match program objectives. This may include the targeting of specific local actors or organizations, or a grouping of each.
  • Measure rigorously: A SNA can be conducted on an organization-by-organization basis as well as applied to the larger networks in which these organizations operate. A baseline can be conducted at the design phase, with follow-up mid-term and final evaluation at the conclusion of the program. Given sufficient sample power, quasi-experimental findings can be generated and applied to both the organizations surveyed and to the network as a whole. Data can be gathered to determine the extent to which the network was strengthened, and to determine how an intervention facilitated and improved development results or a stronger local system.
  • Design appropriately: Oftentimes, the largest NGOs have high internal management capacities and are close to donors. But oftentimes, the largest NGOs are also distant from their constituents. SNA can help provide insights into whether organizations are well-positioned for community-level impact. In other cases, we may find vibrant connections between key NGOs and their constituencies, but weak overall sharing and learning among network members. SNA can help inform decision making regarding how to focus resources. SNA can reveal whether focusing directly on communities, or promoting cross-organization collaboration and the creation of resource hubs would be most effective.


Key Applications

  • Systems mapping / stakeholder analysis
  • Adaptive management
  • Impact measurement
  • Can be applied to multiple sectors whenever there is a need to better understand local systems.

Potential Limitations

  • Census-based instrument, usually open-ended, leading to recall error
  • Network must be carefully defined in advance
  • Measurement typically in one mode (e.g. organizations, not individuals).
  • Measures relationships between actors, not the nature or perceptions of actors themselves.

Click here to read Case Studies of SNA in action.

Click here to read how SNA can be used to analyze publicly available data.