Network learning left and right

At the annual meeting of Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) Marc Steinlin played an interesting game with us to deepen our understanding for all the different challenges that come from working in complex interrelated systems that we only understand halfway. A group of people moves around in a room, everybody silently picks two other people that he or she has to stay in equi-distance to all the time. Someone who doesn’t know the rules of the game observes the group and has to find out how everyone is connected. Maybe the outsider is allowed to move one person at a time to see what happens. Maybe they get the task of moving a specific person to a specific spot without touching that person. Marc describes the game and some of the ideas behind it in more detail (173 KB).

After doing it, I had a strong feeling of the strange dynamics and fragile balances and chance meetings and misunderstandings that we encountered. Now that I let it rest for a few weeks, I think the most interesting thing about it was to learn something very complex and abstract with my whole body. I’m sure the learning experience would have been completely different in a computer simulation or with pen and paper. I strongly remember the feeling of being pushed around physically (though no one touched each other) by the fact that I was linked to other people and they were linked to me.

But I still don’t fully understand, why I think this is so different or valuable in a different kind of way. Maybe it has something to do with using both your left and right half of the brain and with the fact that learning feels more complete when you approach it from different angles. And I think especially when we are not talking about learning individual facts but trying to understand (and get a feel for) what holds our social world together and how we can act in a fruitful way in this, it makes a difference to learn these things with your whole person and not just as snippets of knowledge in the “social network analysis” compartment of the “social scientist” file of your brain…

Do you know other network games? Ways of learning about networks that don’t just go through the intellect? I would really be interested in examples of people teaching children to think in network terms…

4 Responses

  1. Hi Eva,

    Beth Kanter just left a message saying she’s interested in any trainer’s notes or lesson plan on facilitating a netmap session like you did at KM4dev. She’s “pulling together a curriculum on social media and would love to point over to this”.

    You can find Beth’s blog here:


  2. Dear Dorine and dear Beth,
    thank you so much for the interest. I think the best introduction for someone wanting to learn how to use Net-Map is the Net-Map manual (detailed version) on my “about page”. If you want to teach a group about Net-Map, my slide show, also on the “about page” is a good start. I have posted a PDF version there, but anyone who would like the raw powerpoint to include in their own presentation, translate into their own language, shorten, expand etc. should just contact me directly and I’ll share it. I’m always happy to discuss their approaches with people who use it for the first time and to post case-study stories on my blog to expand our views and experiences.

  3. Eva,

    I am developing a stronger interest in these kind of games for educational learning as I better understand their potential.

    I must say, a few years ago, I was quite dismissive of these actvities because the relevance seemed to cease once the work team had gone back to work and resumed the same old work practices and relations. Now I am more hopeful.

    I hope there will be some good suggestions offered to you in the coming days.


  4. Thanks Brad,
    I think transforming learning into action and making it part of your routine is always a difficult thing to do. Especially if you take people out of their normal environment and give them this holiday-like experience that has little to do with their real life. On the other hand I have seen harmless looking ideas grow like a seed in a crack of the pavement, bearing unexpected fruit (often with a time lag and thus great attribution gap).

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