How to discuss a bowl of spaghetti?

In an email exchange Roberta Amaral, who is preparing a Portuguese version of the Net-Map manual, asked: “How do you discuss a messy map at the end of an interview?”

What you need to do to work the network magic is to take all this abundance of detail and simplify it by adding focus and teasing out the structure and negotiating meaning. You have been there during the interview so your are not just working with the spaghetti (the messy drawn network) but you can use the discussion that led to this drawing to guide you towards an understanding of the most important points. Practice makes perfect, so the more often you do this, the better you can read the structure and find the crucial issues in the qualitative discussion.

But what do you look out for?

Look for everything that doesn’t make sense. For example the well connected actor with no influence. It sure will make sense once you asked your why questions. But the sense might be completely different from what you expected. Follow your gut feeling: If you don’t understand it, it means at least that you need more explanation to get it. But very often there is more to these confusing points than just a matter of content that needs to be clarified.

Look for the extremes: High density and gaps in the network, most and least influential actors, ask more questions about them, what does it mean for the achievement of your goals that there is a gap, that these actors have no power at all, that there is so much interaction etc. There is no ideal network density that fits for all situations so the question is always: Does it work here? Who benefits?

Ask for trouble: Ask your interview partners to help you focus by asking questions like: Where are the most important stumbling blocks in this network? Where is an entry point for corruption? Where is it most likely that the communication chain will break down? Which actors have a conflict of interest?

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