Kinds of links

Think of everyone you know. Try to make a list of all different ways you interact with these people. What do you give to and get from them?

Both lists (who you know and what kinds of links you maintain) will barely ever be absolutely complete, so this is more of an exercise to start and get your mind going, to get an expansive understanding of what we mean by “kinds of links”. Thinking of my own personal networks, there are people that I

• Cook for/provide food to
• Give or get money from
• Get formal instructions from
• Am related to (as family members)
• Exchange information with
• Greet on the street
• Argue with
• Give or get advice from
• etc.

Some of these links go into two directions (e.g. exchange information), some of them mostly go into one direction (e.g. mostly I am the one who cooks), others go in one direction by definition (e.g. giving instructions), or don’t have a direction at all (e.g. being relatives).

Also, these links may differ in the way they can change my behavior (or that of members of the network): Some are rather direct and clear (e.g. formal instructions), while others (e.g. providing food) might have a far more subtle and less clearly marked impact. My relation to people I greet on the street is far less stable and important to me than to those that I seek out for advice.

And finally, some of these links will matter in some situations, while others will be more important in other contexts. When it comes to making decisions concerning the house I live in, other people and links will influence me, than when I talk about my work life.

What does all this mean for using Net-Map?
There is an endless number of possible kinds of links you can draw. Drawing all possible links would be as futile as trying to draw a map of the world in 1:1 scale. Focus on those links that are relevant in your field and concerning the decisions you want to understand better.

In your pre-test you will get a better feeling for your links, especially by looking out for those that somehow “don’t work”. Some links will occur basically between everyone. Collecting them is time consuming and the resulting data tends to be boring. So rather cut them out or define them more specifically (e.g. instead of “exchange of information” ask about “exchange of information concerning project implementation”). Some kinds of links will nearly always occur together (in some setting giving command and giving funding are tied to each other). Think about bundling them or only choosing one of them. Some links will be very rare. Maybe your definition is too narrow. Or this link is not really central to this kind of network.

Discuss your links with people who are part of or knowledgeable about the network you analyze, to make sure they are relevant, understandable and meaningful to them. It might be that you get very different pictures of the links in your different pre-test interviews. Try to find out whether this is really due to different views of the network of your interview-partners, or whether your definitions of links are unclear and your interview partners talk about different things, when they discuss who is e.g. giving advice to whom.

Some examples for kinds of links that we have used in our studies are given in the “Case Study” section.

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