Struggling with the Matryoshka Effect

You know these Russian dolls where a little baby doll sits inside a slightly bigger one that sits inside a slightly bigger one etc.? Sometimes, when doing institutional Net-Maps, I feel like I’m on a Russian tourist market, just surrounded by Matryoshkas. Only that the way organizations are nested inside each other is far more complex and analyzing that is not a children’s game.

Matryoshk dissembled, Source: Wikipedia 2008

For example when mapping out the irrigation subsidies system in Chile, we found a number of multi-stakeholder organizations (such as the national and regional irrigation commission), that consisted of members of different ministries, who, at the same time would also provide a council of Ministers, who would govern the whole sector by both, giving directions to the commissions and giving orders to their subsidiary regional and local entities (I don’t have a picture of this at hand, but if you try sketching this just by my description, you will see where the trouble lies). Hauck 2007)

(Net-Map of fisheries governance done by local fisherman in Kasena-Nankana District, northern Ghana. Source: Hauck 2007)

In the above picture you see a related issue, this is a network of individuals and cliques (a clique being a part of a network where everyone is linked to everyone). Jennifer Hauck’s visual solution for this problem was to divert from the tedious task of explicitly drawing each and every link that existed: Where ever a group of people would, for example, all share advice with each other, she would draw a circle around them in the color reserved for advice (see case study Fisheries Governance). If someone from outside this clique shared advice just with one member, the link would be between this external actor and this specific internal actor. If they shared advice with the whole group, the link would be between the external actor and the circle around this group.

I like this solution because it is time saving (and we must admit that net-mapping does take some time) and intuitively understandable. One might even be tempted to draw overlapping circles, if some actors are part of a number of agencies or a number of cliques with different membership.

So why do I call this post “struggling with the matryoshka effect” and not “a great solution for the matryoshka effect”?

Because, while this is a great and useful visual representation of the complexities of intertwined social or governance systems, it is not easily transfered into quantitative network analysis. In the work done by other people that I have seen so far, you would always deal with networks of actors on just one level, either individuals or groups/organizations, but I am still looking for a convincing conceptualization of the fact that sometimes individuals from within different organizations will interact with each other, sometimes individuals will interact with organizations as entities, organizations will interact with each other as entities, individuals are members of more than one organization, a unit within an organisation will interact with an individual within another organisation etc.

I’m not even sure if I have framed the problem in an understandable way, but I would be really grateful for more ideas and maybe even solutions to my struggle with these Russian dolls.

One Response

  1. Hi Eva.

    This paper – – by Professor Pip Pattison and Doctor Gary Robins from Melbourne University may help you.

    Best Regards

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