Tactical Mapping of Human Rights Abuse

Below you can find my musings about potential uses of Net-Map in understanding violent conflicts. I am both excited and wary because of the power of visualization and basically only recommend the use of tools such as Net-Map for people who understand very well what they are meddling with. Skye Bender-deMoll pointed me to the work of a group called “New Tactics in Human Rights”, who does have this kind of expertise in the field.

While they don’t put actors on Influence Towers and don’t explicitly indicate the goals of actors, they do use a network mapping approach in their work about torture. Tactical Mapping produces powerful images of the complex formal and informal networks of accomplices that make torture possible and prevent the exposure of torturers. This tool is used to develop concrete tactics, so in a second step participants develop interventions and point them towards those they want to tackle first to break open the torture chamber.

Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA)

Network Mapping can help you to learn a lot about how and why your project works the way it does. But how do you integrate the 4 steps of Net-Map (Actors, Links, Influence, Goals) into a bigger framework of monitoring and evaluation? Boru Douthwaite and his colleagues call their integrated approach Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis and while they have developed it for the impact evaluation of research projects, it’s well worth looking at it’s feasibility and usefulness for the non-research sector.

What are the similarities between gossip and the flu?

You can “give” it to many people and still keep it. This is one difference (one of the many) between gossip and money, once you give an amount of money to somebody, you don’t have it any more and you can’t give the same money to someone else.

How is this related to network mapping? I have explained the basic concepts of centrality below. These will give you a good measure for the day-to-day, implementation-oriented use of Net-Map.

However, if you are interested in getting more food for thought, and want to understand why centrality in a flu infection network should be measured differently from centrality in a money network, I’d like to recommend one of my favorite conceptual papers on social network analysis, Steve Borgatti’s “Centrality and Network Flows.”

Ask yourself first

Net-Map is a very flexible approach and there are a number of things (such as the concrete question, the kinds of links and the goals of actors) that have to be adapted for the use of the method to answer your specific question.

Now, how do you know, whether you have adapted it in the “right” way? 

Well, there is no such thing as the one right way, but true enough, sometimes you will be able to adapt it in a way that serves your needs quite smoothly, while it might happen in other cases that you end up with more links than anyone could possibly process or that your research question confuses your interview partners because it is too broad or too narrow.

While pre-testing in the field is crucial to get to an appropriate procedure, I would propose a first step that happens in your office: Guide yourself through drawing a Net-Map, following the research question that you are planning to ask your interviewees. This is something you can do on your own, or, if you are working in a team, do it as a team exercise. Depending on your situation, it might also make sense, to draw a Net-Map together with the people who commissioned or initiated your activities.

This serves two different goals:

You will be able to understand, how far the procedure makes sense to you. Be attentive and look critically at any confusion, misunderstanding or uncomfortable feeling you have while mapping out the field you are going to work in and make sure to adapt your approach accordingly. If something annoys or confuses you, it will most likely trigger the same reaction in your interview partners.

Furthermore, mapping out this field will allow you (individually or as group) to assess your knowledge and knowledge gaps, your perception and expectations. It may guide you to prepare yourself better before going to the field. If working as a team, it will help you to benefit from each other’s knowledge and to avoid misunderstandings. And it will serve as an interesting point of reference after you have conducted your field work, as you will be able to see how your perceptions and knowledge changed through the research.

How does Net-Map grow (up)?

This method grows through use and discussion with users. Today I discussed possible future uses of Net-Map with fellow researchers at IFPRI and my colleague Ekin Birol asked: “So you write the research question – Who can influence XY? – on top of your Net-Map for everyone to see?”

“No, you don’t”, I said, hesitated, thought about it: “Actually, that’s a good idea, it will help everyone to stay focussed, if you add the research question as a heading to your Net-Map sheet. “

This might sound like a detail. And it is. But the successful research and facilitation process is made up of a lot of details and all these details together make for a smooth process.

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