Understanding the formal and informal communication networks in your organisation is crucial to managing successfully.

The ARRC works with organisations and people across a number of different disciplines.  Recently we have been developing a partnership with Graham Durant-Law, who specialised in social network analysis.  This is a fascinating area of work, and we are finding that when this analytical tool is combined with qualitative evaluation techniques, an in-depth and much more insightful understanding is gained about how relationships and networks in an organisation are helping or hindering the achievement of goals.  Graham has provided us with an introduction to social network analysis that we hope you find interesting….

With businesses increasingly operating with an evolving and interconnected series of networks, the need for analytical techniques to understand these relationships is growing. Social network analysis views relationships in terms of network theory, with each network made up of individuals or organisations and their interdependency. The resulting structures are often very complicated, but when analysed can reveal knowledge flows, relationships and social capital in an organisation, as shown in the map below.

There are a number of ways of mapping the networks of interest to your organisation. Structured interviews with staff can be used to provide detailed data on communication patterns, the flow of knowledge, and power and support networks in an organisation.  Other techniques use on-line surveys with a greater degree of automation, and can sometimes include data from emails and documents. For example the To: and From: fields in emails can be used along with frequency data, to generate a network visualisation and associated metrics.

The network data that is gathered is incorporated into social network analysis software such as UCINET or NetMiner. Using network theory these packages facilitate qualitative and quantitative analysis to display the networks in the form of sociograms (see map above).  These sociograms enable an organisation’s relationships and networks to be visually represented, with this being a powerful way of showing roles, responsibilities and who is talking to who (or not as the case may be).   However, simple visualisations do not necessarily lead to deep analytical insights, so having an expert working with you to set up the network data collection process and to avoid the poor interpretation of results is important.

While the benefits from a network analysis will be dependent on the purpose of the analysis, a number of recent studies have shown value across a variety of networks in Government, research, and commercial organisations.  For example, a case study of a large Government Department revealed the hidden inter-relationships between a portfolio of projects which are dependent on one another for a variety of reasons.  Resource allocation is a very big issue for these projects. The project- portfolio approach typically puts most effort into those projects with the biggest budgets. However, a network analysis focussing on links and dependencies, revealed a very different picture. The network analysis revealed that there a number of small projects were critically dependent to the success of the larger big dollar projects. This view changes the resource allocation picture for project-portfolio managers, and is illustrated below.

A network analysis provides a snapshot in time of the organisation, typically providing a diagnostic aid which management can use in decision making. Changes in organisational structure, changes in personnel, inevitably change the network picture. This can addressed by viewing the analysis as a two-step process in which a follow up analytical phase reveals the changes following an intervention.

We are currently using social network analysis as one of three lines of evidence for evaluating the Hawkesbury Nepean River Recovery Program.  We are hoping the network analysis will show the relationships and networks that have been built as a result of this Program, as well as shedding light on what will happen to those networks once the Program ends.

We are thrilled Graham is now part of our team, and if you would like to know more, please contact a member of the ARRC team or talk to Graham direct.

Siwan and Nerida