How important is it to draw the network correctly?

Very. And not at all.

This is a revelation I had when using Net-Map as a tool to help a group of colleagues have an in-depth discussion about a complex challenge in their work. So this is about Net-Map as facilitation tool more than Net-Map as tool for collecting network data you will analyze later.

If you want to have the group really get down to the core of the matter, make them explore their differences and be specific about the networks, it is crucial that they want the network to be an absolutely correct representation of how the problem is structured. Because that makes them disagree with each other, explain the reasons for the disagreement and thus get a more in-depth understanding of how others see it and finally, through these struggles get to a common understanding (mostly).

On the other hand, if you use Net-Map as a facilitation tool (and won’t analyze the data afterwards), you really don’t care how they draw the links and if each and everyone of them is correct and complete. For you as a facilitator it’s really “Whatever works for the group”. What does that mean? If it “works” for the group, it get’s them talking about the real issues at hand and they are happy with the way the picture visualizes their views of the situation.

Once you have mastered the method to a degree that you can be playful with it, this is a really important understanding. Because it will guide how you use it with groups: Encourage them to really care for drawing the correct network (while explaining their reasoning to each other). But be flexible when something doesn’t seem to work for them or they (or you) can come up with a shortcut, just go along with it.

For example, in this last session we (the organizers and I) had pre-defined links and one was “request for approval”. The group spent half an hour discussing what that meant and how approval works between two interacting matrix organizations. We weren’t getting anywhere or drawing any links, so I called for a brief coffee break (coffee breaks are a very important facilitation tool… I have mastered them allright…).

Afterward I proposed that instead of drawing an extreme spaghetti network of overlapping approval links it might be enough to write “app” next to the three top dogs who give final approval and move on to the next more interesting link… I don’t think the half hour before the break was wasted, because it was important for the group to get a deeper understanding of the complexities of leadership in this case. The only thing that didn’t make sense was to force them to draw the links when the discussion revealed that it would mean a lot of work without obvious benefit (increased clarity).

In that same session we did a lot of “putting actors in bubbles”, e.g. drawing a line around everyone who is in a certain division of an organization. Then some links connected to the actor, others to the bubble. That’s a pain if you try to find a way of entering it into social network analysis software. But it’s a great and straightforward way of structuring a map for discussion and getting a more correct picture of reality.

That’s one of the great things about mastering something. You know the rules so well that you can start to play with them.

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