This is question a lot of people ask me: Can we show network changes over time? Can we find out, if we made a difference? Will we even be involved long enough to be able to make a difference in people’s networks? Well, while networks evolve over time and you rarely know what the networks will be like 10 years after your project left, I would say that developing networks is actually something where external projects can show a specific strength:
They are by design boundary spanners.
Most people and organizations who are long term members of the system maintain “mature” networks and one thing that networks tend to do as they mature is to become more and more homogeneous – you link up with people (or organizations) of you type, people of similar social standing, interests, ethnicity, age, occupation etc. The project that comes from outside brings all the links to the outside world with it. But also within the local context their interactions are often less constrained by routine and social norms. This is why making introductions and facilitating (adding content to) links between unlikely partners is one way how development projects can become engines of innovation.
A project that links informal businesses to the formal banking sector does exactly that. Because normally the informal business people would stick to their informal financing sources (informal lenders, family, contracting), while the banks would stick to their formal big clients. What happens, if an outside actor brings its status and backup capacity to bear to convince banks that it might be ok (or even profitable) to do business with female informal rice par-boilers? The radical changes in the women’s networks can move them from being contract par-boilers to being independent business women. Independent? Well, the case below is from a strongly Muslim context, so the women still have to rely on their male family members for most contact to the outside world.
These pictures show a combination of the networks we gathered from women who had not participated in the project (network 1) and those who did (network 2). The color of the nodes is according to gender (pink: female, blue: male, gray: composite actor, male and female). The size of the dots indicate the height of the influence tower. In picture 1 the interview partner is “contract par-boiler” in picture 2 the interview partner is “par-boiler group”.