What if we’re not quite sure?

Normally the aim of research is to find things out and to present results that we are sure of and clear about. What a pain that reality is often so messy and opaque and no matter how well research is done, when it comes to social phenomena, different people might see them in different ways!

So what do we do (in social network mapping) if we are not sure about a link? Maybe there are opposing opinions about whether or not it exists. Or we suspect that there should be a link but don’t have enough evidence to be sure… One way of dealing with this would be only to represent those links, we are absolutely sure of. We’re on the safe side this way.

But sometimes the crux of the matter lies in the disputed, suspected, confused links, sometimes the most interesting part of the analysis is where people disagree about a link. I believe that the frustrating feeling of “I’m not quite sure about this. There is conflicting evidence. This should be here but I can’t find it…” points you towards the spot where you should dig deeper and you might come up with something new and unexpected.

What does that mean when you are Net-Mapping an especially confusing situation? You might want to visualize not only the different kinds of links (such as flow of money, flow of information) in different colors but add a visual clue for whether the link is definite or disputed. You could, for example choose dotted lines for disputed links. In the analysis you could play around with:

  • looking just at the undisputed links
  • looking at the complete network as if all the disputed links were indeed real
  • looking just at the disputed links

Do you see any patterns? Are there certain areas of the network that you need to get a better understanding of? Are there certain biases or personal interests that lead you interview partners to be unclear about specific links? Are links disputed because of a lack of knowledge on your side or because of conflicting views within the network?

I hope to try this approach with some colleagues this afternoon. If you do as well, it would be great to hear about your experience: Does it help to document and discuss the things you are not quite sure about?

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