Influence on what?

This is what our participants in Nigeria asked. Clare Narrod (IFPRI) and Paolo Duarte (ILRI) asked people involved in the poultry sector in Nigeria to draw a net-map about how suspected cases of avian flu are communicated to the respective authorities and how the reaction (i.e. eventually quarantining and culling birds) goes down to the individual farm level.

This is all part of a larger scale international project on avian flu, that looks at the way different countries around the developing world have reacted to the threat of avian flu. The Pro-Poor HPIA Risk Reduction Project is a collaboration of FAO, Royal Veterinary College, Rural Development Research Consortium, the International Lifestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and a number of national partners in the countries that the research focuses on: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam. I will not exhaust the whole content and frame of the project here, because you can guess already, with such a mix of institutions and countries, this is an incredibly complex project. Read more here.

I just want to quickly tell you how Clare and Paolo reacted, when the Nigerians asked: “On what?”, indicating that the influence landscape is rather different whether you ask: “Who can influence whether the information about suspected cases flows effectively to the respective institutions?” or “Who can influence whether the appropriate action is taken and effectively executed once the cases have been confirmed?” Clare’s and Paolo’s solution was simple: They asked the participants to set up influence towers twice so that we can now see how the responsibilities shift:

– From the lower level “front line staff” who are crucial in channeling information from the farm level up (Question 1) to

– The higher level national actors, who have to make the decisions and lead the concerted action to react on the outbreak (Question 2).

One good thing: It doesn’t take much extra time to play around with the influence towers, once the map has been assembled and the first set-up is done.

We don’t fight. We jaw-jaw!

I love Ghanaians anyway. But if I didn’t already, then their creative use of the English language would definitely convert me. After a hot net-map session about risk communication in the context of avian flu, one participant from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture introduced me to this Ghanaianism: “We only jaw-jaw!” Meaning: “Man, we can move our mouths and shout at each other, but in the end, it’s just a movement of the jaw, it doesn’t lead to any serious fighting.”

(Later: Talking about this with a Canadian friend, who grew up in Nigeria, I learn that this is actually a Nigerianism… Well, I have been saying for some time now that I would love to go to Nigeria)

New IFPRI Discussion Paper on Net-Map!

If you want to read about the case of the White Volta Basin Board in Ghana in more detail and have a more research oriented view of Net-Map, check out our new discussion paper: “Tracing Power and Influence in Networks; Net-Map as a Tool for Research and Strategic Network Planning” (by Eva Schiffer and Douglas Waale)

This is a global public good – or: the more, the merrier…

Patrice Chollet asks in his comment, whether he can adapt and use Net-Map in his training for small enterprises to become aware of the potential of collaborative work to further their development. He writes:

“I found a reference to Net-Map last month and have been impressed by the structure and potential of the toolkit as a means to get people to discuss potentially difficult issues over an indisputable framework. I see a great opportunity to transpose it for use within a non-commercial forum that I am participating in, that is called (New Business Energy – La Nouvelle Energie du Business in French).

So my question is: to what extent would you authorize me to refer to your work and use the principles of the Net-Map toolkit for a networking seminar that we are organizing in July in France?”

The answer is YES, YES, YES, that is exactly what I want you to do. Use Net-Map where-ever you can. Refer people to where they can learn more about it. Point out that I love comments and case studies for this blog. Write up your experience and send it to me. Let’s work on forming a lively community of practice around Net-Map. And don’t hesitate to ask about details.

Mapping the structure of big networks of individual actors (without getting overwhelmed)

So what do you do if you are interested in understanding the structure of a network of individuals and the network is too big or your resources too small, to interview each and every one of the 500 members as to who they are linked to? Sometimes, for getting a bigger picture of the structure, you might not even be interested in learning whether Peter sings with Paul or Mary (but if you are, look here). But you want to rather have a concept of what roles people fulfill in the network and what links they have because of these roles. I’m thinking about “generic role labels”. So you add a number of singers:

Singer A

Singer B

Singer C

And they are linked to each other by singing together; they are linked to the generic

Manager A

by multiple links of money flow and contractual agreement, etc.

Or, maybe you are looking at a research network and you see it consists of university professors in different countries, students in these countries on different levels, staff of government agencies who is supposed to implement, farmers and fishermen in the respective countries, who provide data etc. Everybody involved plays a lot of roles in their life (being a mother, church-member, consumer, business-owner etc.), but you would, in this case, only be interested in the role that they play in your network. Just try it out: What happens if you write their roles on your actor cards and ask: How is the typical farmer in your network linked to the typical PhD student and the typical professor?

Because the role labels are generic, the outcome would also be more generic, it would tell you much more about how people think about the structure of the network, and you would have to remind people that it is not about “how it should be”. But I think there are cases when this is exactly what you are interested in: How do people think that things go in our network. And you will see that in any given network there are very different perceptions about that. In case you want to combine the “generic role labels” approach with information about individual actors, you might want to choose bigger actor cards and add names of individuals that can serve as examples of people fulfilling these roles.

What it feels like

I’m just coming out of an intense session with 70 or so members of the KM4Dev community, mapping out the networks that members of the community have with each other. It was intense because of the size of the group (we worked in sub-groups) but also because we experimented with the format and came up with some steps that left the room buzzing with emotions.

Normally I have either drawn network maps about individuals in one-to-one interviews or, when working with groups, we mapped out networks of organisations and groups (Ministry of Agric is linked to Ministry of Health etc.) So in the first case, you have a protected space, because you are just sharing your map with the one person facilitating the process. So when you are mapping out your interactions at the workplace for example, you can be rather open about conflicts and individual roles, because the map is basically just for you. If you have a group session but you are just mapping out organisations, again, the individuals are sheltered, because they are just part of organisations but not put on the map explicitly.

So, in today’s experiment (having groups map out individual linkages) I think one reason for tension was a feeling of being exposed and maybe being judged. What does it mean, if some group members have many links and others have few? How can we get to a discussion that acknowledges that there are many different roles in a network and that more links aren’t necessary always better?

Even more controversial than the connectedness however was that I asked people to rate network members as to how strongly they drive the community in terms of content and in terms of process. Some participants commented that they felt like being graded in school and both, those with high driver-values and those with low ones could feel uncomfortable for being singled out. Some sub-groups decided not to rate the actors at all but just color-code them; add dots of different color for those who focus more on driving content and those who focus more on driving processes.

For me as a facilitator this was an interesting day, because after the mapping of 8 different networks, the room buzzed with all kinds of experiences and emotions and I wondered, how will we be able to let this energy settle and will make sure people leave the room with a good (or at least ok) feeling, once we are done.

What helped a lot in digesting the process and reflecting on the learning experiences was to mix up the groups in World CafĂ© style. After the mapping was done, one host per map would stay at the table, while everyone else would move to different tables to spend 15 minutes with the hosts, discussing the experience. Afterwards, there were still participants who found the exercise more and others who found it less helpful. However, even though it is difficult to put my finger on it, something about the feel in the room had shifted and it felt – at least for me as a facilitator – as if some of the stirred up seas had settled again. I’m curious about feedback from my colleagues and I believe there will be plenty, given that this is a meeting of facilitators of all different flavors.

Packing my bags

While I am packing my bags to fly to Portugal to map out the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community and from there to Ghana and Ethiopia, to understand communication flows in the context of avian flu, I am also packing my bags in a bigger sense.

I am leaving the safe haven of being an employee and moving to the freedom of free-lancing. And in the same process I hope to slightly move away from being a (paper publishing) researcher to being a (people moving) facilitator of processes, events, change. Though, to be honest, while I was employed to be a researcher, I did my share of facilitation. And I am sure, now that I move out to be a facilitator, I will continue being close to research and staying interested in finding things out.

Getting VisuaLyzer

Those of you who clicked on my link to get a download of the computer program that I use to visualize influence networks, might have been confused, because it was a rather generic link that just led to the main page of the software company. The following comment will help you to get there more directly:

Hi Eva,

We are glad that you appreciate VisuaLyzer. Here is a better link to information on our website about VZ and other social network applications:

– allen

Understanding your community

Now I’m not talking about a rural village but a community of practice. Today I had a great discussion with some of my colleagues of Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) about how to best map out this community of practice at our annual meeting in Lisbon next week. Who are we, what are the roles and networks of our members, what holds the community together, who drives it?

We discussed back and forth: What is it that we actually want to know? What is possible in the limited amount of time? How can we integrate old hands and new comers, more and less active community members? Just to give you an idea what such an activity can look like, let me give a brief outline:

We will have 3 hours, about 60 participants, 7 tables and piles of paper, post-its, pens and checkers pieces. We split up in groups of about 8 members, each group will draw one map together.

First all group members will put their own name on post-it on the map. Then the first one will take up the pens and draw links of different color between him/herself and everyone that they:
1. Interact with regularly (knowledge exchange, advice etc.)
2. Work together (paid or volunteering) to co-create something
3. Follow actively (meaning: seeking out their blog posts, websites etc. without actually interacting with the person)

The members of the working groups will interact with people beyond this small group, so they will add post-its for other community members that they interact with and draw the respective links. Once the first ones have drawn all their links, they hand the pens to the next person, who draw theirs, until everyone in this small group has added their part of the network.

A lot of the members of KM4Dev are actually also members of sister communities and it would be very interesting for everyone to know who holds double memberships, because it helps you in understanding the structure and networking beyond the immediate scope of the community. So we decided that participants will identify the relevant sister communities, draw a legend and assign different colored stickers to each actor who belongs to different communities.

We had a discussion about whether or not we wanted to talk about the influence of actors in a non-hierarchical network: Will that offend or intimidate some people? We decided to use the (influence) towers not to indicate power relations but rather how far actors are “drivers”. Some members will be drivers of the content development (What is KM4Dev? How does it work? etc.) while others will be drivers of the process (Fostering and developing KM4Dev as a community, making things happen for the group). We decided that these two functions are so different that we want to give “driver towers” of two different colors for driving content and driving process. The stronger the driving, the higher the tower.

This process is slightly different to what I have done before in group meetings. Normally I would ask the group to agree on a common view of all the actors and flows within a specific issue network. This would mean: Sometimes they would draw links that are not their own but indicate that “these two actors interact”. The way we do it this time, they don’t have to agree on a common view but rather build one layer on top of the other, each one just talking about the own linkages. Let’s see how that works and what the resulting networks look like.

Just take it and run!

At our last workshop in Bolgatanga, Ghana one of the participants, the regional head of office of the Red Cross, walked up to me with a beaming smile on his face: “Eva, the thing you taught us last time you where here [meaning: Net-Map], we are now using it with our community groups! It’s working very well!”

We didn’t have much time to go into further detail but he had made me happy. I had been convinced before but he was running proof: This is so simple and so useful, that any halfway interested layperson can learn how to draw Net-Maps in half a day and start understanding his or her complex work environment better.

Sure, I don’t know how exactly he is using it, if he exploits the method to it’s full potential and without misunderstanding. And, sure as well, to be able to structure a more comprehensive network learning approach or to develop a bigger net-map study, you have to put in more thinking and background knowledge into it.

But even though some of my colleagues caution me and advise me to make it sound more difficult, so as to make sure that people don’t “steal” the idea… I would rather want to encourage people to just take it and run with it. When I started pushing Net-Map beyond my own project, a good friend in Ghana said: “If you want this idea to grow really big, you need champions for it. One person can only do so much. But if you find a lot of people all over the world, who get excited about this, it can become much bigger than you are.”

So, my colleagues in Bolgatanga, Ghana will agree: This is no rocket science. It’s powerful because it’s simple. If you have tried it out and want to tell us about your Net-Map experience, the way you have adapted it for your use, the local materials you used, your challenges and unexpected outcomes, please contact me to write a guest post (short) or case study (longer). If you want to try it but are not quite sure if you are on the right track, contact me and we’ll discuss.