It’s a box

The Net-Map Toolbox is a real, physical box. With little things inside that you can play with. It actually looks a bit like a board game. Which is not surprising, because the first field version was assembled out of pieces bought in a toy shop. I have realized that it is important to clarify that, because when I tell my colleagues that I have developed a toolbox, they immediately think of computer applications.

There are computer programs that help with the data analysis (for example UCINet or VisuaLyzer, both have free trial versions for download on the Internet). However to collect data or facilitate processes, you don’t need electricity but you have to take real things to the field, spread a big sheet of paper on a table or on the floor, write names of actors on little cards that you stick to it, draw colorful links according to how they are connected, build influence towers indicating how strongly the different actors influence the process and add symbols or abbreviations for other important information about them next to the actor cards, for example their goals.

Talking about “things to play with”: The physical toolbox developed at IFPRI makes it much more convenient to carry everything you need with you to the field. However, if you have a look at the manual (848 KB), you will see that you can also use the method with “tools” assembled in the field. In Ghana we tried out different options, checkers pieces went well but weren’t available locally, beans refused to be stacked so that idea was abandoned soon. Bicycle bearings were available on the local market and proved to be rather stackable so they performed as influence towers in Jennifer Hauck’s study on fisheries’ governance (see case study section).

Jennifer says: “I like using locally available materials when I’m in the field. And when I pulled out my bag full of bicycle spare parts, that always made my interview partners laugh. It proved to be a great ice-breaker, where a very sleek research tool might have intimidated the local fishermen.”

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