Oh the sheer beauty of networks…

I could spend days surfing the 777 different projects that the visualcomplexity project has gathered, some of them amaze me because of what they are about, more of them just because they are so beautiful. Some examples, just to get you started

Nike city runs NYC

“Nike+ involves the placement of a sensor underneath the foot bed of your Nike running shoe in order to collect data about where you’ve run, how long it took and where you can improve over time – since each individual run becomes part of a collective historical database. Even though Nike+ website already gives individual users a variety of features to make sense of their personal data, the collective analysis of this growing database is remarkably promising.

The interactive collective YesYesNo developed an installation for Nike’s retail stores to visualize a year’s worth of runs uploaded to the Nike+ website. With custom software, the installation plays back runs throughout three cities: New York, London and Tokyo. The runs showed tens of thousands of peoples’ runs animating the city and bringing it to life. The software visualizes and follows individual runs, as well as showing the collective energy of all the runners, defining the city by the constantly changing paths of the people running in it.”

Visualizing Databases Stanford
“Using the visualization tool Gephi, Elijah Meeks has produced a series of experiments depicting databases in diverse styles. The images show here are mapping the top contributors to the Catalogue of Life and their associated species, references and databases.

As Elijah states: “While it could be argued that all databases can be devolved into graph databases, and as such all databases are graphs and therefore networks in the most pure sense, I think that there’s something more practical at play here: the importance of network visualization for database aesthetics. Summaries and statistics drawn from within the structure of the database are not enough. If there is to be any real grappling with the database as an culturally-embedded construct, then it has to be done in a manner that reveals the data, the model and the population simultaneously.”

Stephanie Posavec Writing without words Kerouac
“Writing Without Words, by Stephanie Posavec is a series of striking visualizations exploring the differences in writing style between authors of various modern classics. The images shown here are a visualization of Part One from the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac. In this piece, entitled Literary Organism, each literary component was divided hierarchically into even smaller parts – Part, Chapters, Paragraphs, Sentences, and ultimately Words, the smallest branch in the diagram. Stephanie also created different colors to distinguish the eleven thematic categories she created for the entirety of On the Road. Some categories include: Social Events & Interaction, Travel, Work & Survival, and Character Sketches, among others.

This is how NOTCOT describes Stephanie’s work:”The maps visually represent the rhythm and structure of Kerouac’s literary space, creating works that are not only gorgeous from the point of view of graphic design, but also exhibit scientific rigor and precision in their formulation: meticulous scouring the surface of the text, highlighting and noting sentence length, prosody and themes, Posavec’s approach to the text is not unlike that of a surveyor. And similarly, the act is near reverential in its approach and the results are stunning graphical displays of the nature of the subject. The literary organism, rhythm textures and sentence drawings are truly gorgeous pieces.”

How the poor adapt to climate change in Kenya and Ethiopia

Farmers in Ethiopia (picture credit Stevie Mann, ILRI)

… and what role their formal and informal networks play in this.

Let me share some of the work my former colleagues at IFPRI have been doing with Net-Map. This is the result of their field work in Ethiopia and Kenya, looking at the strategies and networks of stakeholders in their adaptation to climate change. They point to the challenges of taking action and innovating in a highly centralized system, where success and failure lies on the shoulders of a burdened few and there is little communication between other actors. And they highlight the risk of having self-perpetuating discussions in the high offices of powerful local and international elites, with little direct relevance or contact to those men and women who have to deal with the effects of climate change on their farms on a daily basis. Read the full Kenya and Ethiopia reports here. And if you want to share your Net-Map work, whether it is an extensive PhD research or a brief field report, please contact me so that I can share it with the wider Net-Mapping community.

If you want to read more in general about effects of climate change on the people in Kenya and Ethiopia, this article in the Guardian about the ongoing drought in Kenya paints a painful picture of the day-to-day realities on the ground

Saving travel cost by Net-Mapping before you go

No-Fly-ZoneSaving cost and reducing travel are a big thing at the World Bank at the moment – as in many organizations. So while it was always requested to do your homework before going on a scoping mission, now this homework really has to be much more in-depth, everything you can squeeze out of your desk (research), do squeeze… It has to produce tangible outputs and prepare you as best you can to use your brief and costly time in the field wisely.

So we will pilot using Net-Map for this, sitting down with the project leader (based in DC) and maybe one or two colleagues who know the country and the sector well and to help them draw a map of the stakeholder situation as they see it. This will be a 3-4 hour meeting in our office – no plane ticket involved – a day or two of rough data analysis and visualization, then sharing the results (highlighting pain points and open questions) with colleagues on the ground in an online discussion.

It’s not a replacement for going to the field but it will help us get an in-depth first impression of the politics involved, help the project leader and experts structure their knowledge and share it and have something concrete to start the discussion with the people on the ground.

I will share how it goes and am curious if you have tried simmilar approaches. If you have, how have you dealt with the possible bias of the central perspective? How have you made the results easily approachable for the people on the ground and avoided that the first map was seen as the gospel? How have you dealt with open questions and guesswork?

Can a high school drop-out find a job with Net-Map?

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(Picture copyright Lydia on flickr)

Karen is an 18 year old high school drop-out with a criminal record for shop-lifting, some limited work experience at McDonald’s, a boyfriend she rarely talks to and no idea how she can start earning enough money to move out of her mother’s place and start a more independent life. Will drawing a Net-Map help her understand who can help her make the next step, who she needs to avoid, what issues she has to tackle next and where some unexplored opportunities lie?

It seems like the answer is yes. Well, kind-of… Because Karen is the role one of our Net-Map training participants played, she isn’t a real teenager, but rather the aggregate of a number of girls our colleague has worked with. To figure out if this method could possibly work in untangling the web of family, friends, parole officers, minimum wage employers etc. that may influence the next step forward for a girl like Karen. As the role play went on it became more and more involved and somehow felt real. The most powerful part of it came at the end, when “Karen” started considering how to change the influence of different actors in the network. What it would feel like if some of the influence was taken away from her boyfriend and transferred to her. What would it take? Could you make it happen? What is stopping you?

I am excited to see that we, as a community of practice, are expanding what Net-Map can do, working with it as a tool for personal counselling and working with younger audiences. As some regular readers might know, my youngest Net-Mapper was my daughter, at age three, when we mapped out “Who loves who in the family.” And I am convinced that understanding the power of your networks, both positive and negative, can be a game changer for teenagers at the cross-roads. So, if you do have a teenager at hand who is willing to try it out, it would be wonderful if you could Net-Map their future with them. Not the whole wide expanse of all of their future. But a challenging and concrete next step that they need to master. And please, share your experience.

 

Guiding your network weaving: Net-Map training in DC (June 27-28)

ImageAt our trainings you dive into using Net-Map in your own context pretty quickly. Last fall one of our participants actually took a break from the map he was drawing because it made him realize that he had to make a few phone calls to some key influencers that he had not been quite aware of. And he had to do that RIGHT NOW. So while he continued learning more about Net-Map through the training he had already kicked off powerful network weaving in his home county to save jobs and keep major local employers from moving out of the county. Experiences like this give me goosebumps. How mapping out formal and informal networks, seeing them in front of you, can give you new insights about problems that you have obsessed about for ages…

If you want to spend two days with us in DC, learning how to map actors, connections, goals and influence levels and how Net-Map can inspire transformational changes in a question you are passionate about, secure one of the remaining spots in our June training.

 

 

First Net-Map training in Nairobi, Kenya (May 21-23)

 

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The Fairview Hotel in Nairobi, where the training will be held

It started with a simple request many months ago: Kentice Tikolo of the Kenya based strategy communications firm Impact Africa asked me: What do I need to do to learn Net-Map? Many conversations and a lot of planning sessions later the question has become a much bigger one and so has the answer. So, the question now is: How can I bring Net-Map to Kenya and create an opportuntity for myself and others in the region to learn it? And the answer is our first Net-Map training in Nairobi. My colleague Amit Nag will travel to Kenya to teach this three day course (May 21-23) that includes the methodological background, hands-on pen-and-paper facilitation practice and an introduction in how to computerize the maps and get started with more quantitative analysis.

The training is open to anyone who is interested and a few open spots are still remaining. The cost is 875 US$ per person. And for sign up or request more information, please contact Kentice directly at kentice.tikolo@impactafrica.co.ke.

Become an expert Net-Map facilitator: Next training in DC June 27-28

influence towers from sideWe are are planning 2 Net-Map workshops in Washington DC this year. There are some more workshops planned in other parts of the world (e.g. Kenya in May)– so stay tuned. And, if you are interested in a workshop catered to your organization and at your location, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

The next workshop in DC is scheduled for June 27-28. So please mark the dates. This is a two day workshop in which you learn the basics of how to use Net-Map to improve your ability to understand and navigate personal and professional networks. The workshop will have a strong focus on learning-by-doing and you will be able to bring your own questions and map them out.

The location is George Washington University. Please sign up here

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