I think I like teaching, because I like doing several things at a time. While I tried my best to introduce the Net-Map tool to the students I had the chance to learn from the students as well, when they shared their experience with me.
I started with a very brief overview of how one can use the social network perspective to look at the world of social structures.
Subsequently my colleague Conrad Schetter, from the research group “Governance and Conflict” at the Center for Development research (ZEF) (who invited me to give this course in the first place – Thanks Conrad!) and I presented two case studies. The brief overview of our own research had the purpose of giving examples for possible questions and answers that can be acquired when looking at social networks.
After a brief explanation of the working steps, the students got their chance to draw networks themselves in small groups of three to four people. Every group got worksheets where the mapping steps were explained again. In addition slightly different instructions were given to the different groups as to how to organize the interview situation. One group discussed as a normal discussion group, without moderator or interviewer. A second group was instructed to select one interviewer and the rest were the “interview partners”. A third group should select one interview partner and the other group members each had their tasks, e.g. asking questions, taking notes and drawing the map.
The course ended with a discussion of the results and, most important, sharing the experience. The experiences are summarized in the following:
Previous knowledge of the research context helps to ask the right question and evaluate the usefulness of the answers.
Research question must be clear, e.g. level of analysis or time period of interest should be narrowed down.
Good knowledge of the interview partner is crucial, otherwise the network information remains superficial.
It is a good idea to start the interview process or pre-tests with people you know and who will allow you to access “sensitive” information. However, afterwards it is crucial to broaden the range of interview partners to capture as many different views as possible.
Interviewing people in small, homogeneous groups can be of advantage as they can share information and learn from each other. This process can be very enlightening for the interviewer as well.
A single interviewer may be over-whelmed by the tasks to handle during the interview (interviewing, drawing the network, translating, documenting the process, etc). Too many interviewers may irritate the interview partner. The number of interviewer should be adjusted to the situation.
Information acquired can be quite delicate. Make sure nobody but you has access to the information and disguise the information if you present it and let your interview partner know that you will do so.
If you realize that there is no new information per interview, you could consider to stop the interviewing process.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the participants for their attention and active participation and look forward to the next course!