Guest Post: Net-Map in cultural development in Germany

German culture Net.Map

First time-use of a Net-Map-procedure in a culture development process

The recently published study on behalf of the Institute for Cultural Policy

offers new ways for the coordination of action for the pilot region in South

Thuringia (central Germany)

©Patrick S. Föhl & Robert Peper

With the decision to perform a network analysis, the Institute for Cultural Policy entered new territory within the framework of cultural development processes. During the process it was planned to highlight previously unknown communication and conflict structures between different stakeholders from politics, administration, arts and culture as well as economy, tourism and civil society. Additionally, so-called white spots (“structural holes”) between representatives of various sectors should be identified. Stakeholders of all relevant domains would be interviewed in order to implement effective coordination structures within the two counties Hildburghausen and Sonneberg. In order to achieve these goals, the Institute for Cultural Policy engaged Robert Peper, a PhD-student from the Leuphana University of Lueneburg, who is trained in visual social network analysis.

By using Net-Map, the network structures between actors of culture, politics, administration, business and civil society could be traced in a very participatory process. In the beginning of the interviews respondents were asked to recall the last three months of their daily interactions with other stakeholders with regards to their cultural work. They were then asked to draw actors on a network card using a large sheet of paper and pens. For this process, standardized name generators were used. In the course of the conversation ego-alteri (connections between interview partner and others) and alteri-alteri relationships (connection between two others, not involving the interview partner) were depicted in the network map. The visualization displayed both the flow of communication as well as the conflicts and future relationships between the actors involved. In order to highlight the most influential actors in the decision making process, the interviewees were asked to mark the influence of individual actors by heightening the respective tokens.

The evaluation of the network analysis, which included 14 Net-Map-interviews with politicians, tourist officers, artists, museum directors among others, revealed surprising findings. Key players and core interactions were identified that were previously unknown but are crucial for the future cultural development of the model region. A regional tourism association appeared as an extremely well-connected node and as an important potential strike for cultural operators in order to obtain access to the business sector. In addition, the regional mayors turned out to be the lynchpins of the collected network, which comprises a total of 167 players. Missing relations could be located e.g. between artists and schools. Many local actors spotted developing a denser network between cultural and educational sectors as the most important task for the future.

The advantage of this Net-Map-based network analysis lies in the possibility to highlight the most important formal and informal interactions of cultural governance processes and to identify gaps in the network structures that need to be closed in order to pool resources and to strengthen communication and decision-making processes for the cultural field of a whole model region. These expectations were fully met with the results of the recently published report. The study served as an important additional tool for the whole cultural development process (which also involved many other tools such as expert interviews, structural analyses, workshops etc.) and was presented at the occasions of different cultural workshops. The process ended in April 2015 and can now be seen as a good example for a modern approach with regards to cultural development planning.

Dr. Patrick S. Föhl, leading project manager of the cultural development processes, sees great possibilities for the use of network analysis – also in other regions: “There is a lot of potential. Participatory social network analysis will play a crucial role in future cultural development processes. In the model region Hildburghausen and Sonneberg it already works. The results of the analysis are an important milestone in the cultural development process and clearly demonstrate the existence of comprehensive networking.”

For further information about the process please visit the following websites:

german culture Net-Map two

Ghost stakeholders

ghostbuster-logoGhost stakeholders are those stakeholders who are not really on the net-map, but who were mentioned in interviews or informal talk as having a great influence on the mapped actors, yet are too embarassing to be mentioned during the net-map exercise. Mistresses, wives, children, siblings, same party members, business partners and close friends, may not have an official role in the project, yet they systematically condition the choices of the “official” actors. For example, in a bilateral cooperation project I was working in – in Burundi – the Art School received special attention compared to the other targeted schools because the project manager’s wife was an art teacher when they were living Europe. Similarly, trainees will not accept contributing a share of their per diem to a common fund which would reinforced the long term sustainability of their project because their wives had already made plans on how to spend the relatively conspicuous allowance. And their friends too were aware that each day of training is worth X.000 in local currency, so they felt socially compelled – more or less overtly – to pay them a beer. Next time you run a net-map, have a close look around your actors: you may find some traces of ectoplasm slime…


Small town NetMapping: Can informal relationships be captured within institutional analysis? (guest post by Jody Harris)

My PhD research in Zambia is an evaluation of an NGO program that aims in part to align and coordinate certain activities within the Ministries of Agriculture and Health for improved nutrition outcomes (both food and health being essential elements of good nutritional status, of course!). A key piece of information, then, is how are different players in these sectors interacting right now, and how does that interaction change over the course of the project? Enter NetMap.

The key to the alignment strategy being used in this project is to start at District rather than National level, to create a model of coordination that can be used to advocate for scaling up to other areas or even other countries. Ministry staffing is minimal at District level, so I aimed to interview everybody employed in each District Ministry, from the Directors down to technical officers (around 5 people per ministry), and to snowball out from there to anyone else who came up in the interviews as crucial to the process.

This being the first time I had used NetMap, I was unsure how it would be received- how would people react to being asked to give up an hour or more of their day to draw pictures with an outsider? In anticipation of rejection, I made sure the process looked as professional as possible- putting together a regulation NetMap kit, sending formal letters of invitation to interviews, hiring a highly professional local assistant, and dressing as smartly as I possibly could in sweltering pre-rains temperatures. But the method held true, and just following the steps from actors to links to influence engaged everyone from the moment we started- as I had been promised it would!

Being on a smaller scale than much national-level research I have seen that uses social network analysis, I had wondered if I could use NetMap at the individual level; that is, could I map not only the formal interactions but also the informal interactions between individual players within each Ministry, since it is very likely that personal relationships shape collaboration, particularly in such a small population as in the district capital (a small, one-road town). One of my pre-defined links therefore was informal interactions, and my questions attempted to probe whether person X might have family ties to person Y, or whether person A drinks in the evenings with person B. But it turned out in pre-test that even small-town rural Zambia had too many players in this field for everyone to know everyone; people knew which organizations were doing what with nutrition, but not who was doing it, and the method defaulted pretty quickly back to looking at organizations rather than individuals. Still a very interesting picture, but I wonder if there might be something in this for my future research…

So, now I have a collection of beautifully colorful maps to process and a good idea of local views on the alignment of sectors for nutrition in rural Zambia, so watch this space…

Be rich in obligations (by Paolo Brunello)

I’m doing my PhD research here in Burundi right now, using net-map as my favourite investigation method.

I’m interested in understanding the complex relational dynamics occuring in a bilateral cooperation project in which I was directly involved with a managing role.
While running a net-map interview with one very experienced, highly placed French project manager, who lived and worked in international development in Burundi for 28 years and is married to a Burundian, I was struck by one of his comments. I asked: “What is the most important gain this Burundian ministry officer wants to get out this project?” He answered: “He wants to become richer in obligations.” At first I didn’t really get what he was meaning and I was clearly puzzled, so he continued: “You see, the real currency here is not the Burundian Franc, it’s finer than that. Sure, money is important to them, but what really counts is the favours someone can do and consequently the credits that these constitute for the future. That is to be powerful: to know that you have plenty of people that owe you something and that you can draw on that “bank” when you need.” No big news – you may say – this is true everywhere, not just in Burundi! Yes indeed, I may agree, and yet it was an eye opener for me, something I hadn’t really understood that clearly in my 5 years living here. In fact I hadn’t realised the adaptive potential of such strategy that, in my view, is much more than solidarity. Obligations do not expire and in a world where everything is still quite uncertain and precarious, and even more so after 15 years long ethnic war has quaked all landmarks, where the right of law is not assured and a minister today can become a taxi driver tomorrow, you may well prefer to invest time and effort in strenghtening your social relationships, so that they can be loaded with obligations, like savoury Parma hams hanging in an Italian Delicatessen, seasoning for the right moment to pick them down. This is their priority – increasing resilience through social bonds – rather than implementing project activities timely, according to the blueprint, as we expats expect. Call me naïve, I hadn’t gotten it, and I suspect many other development agents haven’t either, as the mainstream tendency is to focus on the content of what is done or has to be done and to neglect the importance of the impalbable web of social networks (which has little to do with the social networks on the web ;-).

Case study EPA: (Net-)Mapping Your Way to Action ( by Paul Boos)

You might need more than this to navigate hierarchical sensibilities (picture by Calsidyrose, flickr)

Paul Boos learned Net-Map when I facilitated a session at the Society for Organizational Learning (SOL) and even though I rushed them through the activity and we didn’t have much time to go into details, he immediately picked it up and started using it for strategic planning in his work environment. And what’s even more exciting, he did achieve some goals that he might otherwise have missed AND he wrote it all up in a 4 page case study for us to learn from it.

Paul and his colleagues are involved in the labeling of pesticides at the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently the pesticide producers who apply for registration send PDF documents with the contents to the EPA, somebody has to type these into a document and follow up if the initial PDF doesn’t actually fit the requirements. Pauls group asks: Wouldn’t it be nice if the pesticide producer could type in discrete data elements following a turbo tax-like interview process and spit out a controlled label that meets the rules?

For someone who stands outside of government hierarchies like me it’s easy to say: Yes! Go for it! But we all know that having a good idea and getting approval from the right people in a hierarchical organization are two very different things and figuring out who to ask when and how can make all the difference. Through Net-Mapping Paul and his colleague realized which leaders had to be involved in the process early so that they don’t get miffed and don’t feel disrespected. They came up with 8 concrete networking steps they needed to take and achieved at least a partial success, as you can read here: Net-Map Case Study EPA pesticides.

As you will see in the case study, Paul is strongly involved in the Agile Software Development movement which promotes iterative, open and crowd sourcing approaches to software development and I will have the pleasure to play around with Net-Map with them at their Agile Coach Camp’s Games Day, 23 September, 2011 in Columbus Ohio.

Have you used Net-Map in your work? Send me your case study and let’s build this community of practice together!

Guest Post: Net-Map and stop swimming up-stream (By Lin McDevitt-Pugh)

Lin was a participant in my Net-Map workshop in Utrecht last December and here is how she describes her experience using the method:

“Working with Net-Map
Hello Eva,
After you introduced me to the Net-Map exercise I have now used it three times, working with women entrepreneurs in Eastern Africa.
I was particularly keen to learn about Net-Map, as I provide a workshop in networking for companies and organizations called Mobilize Networks! – see The first part of the workshop provides participants with a basic knowledge of how networks can be used as an economic resource by any business or organization. The participants are seated four, five or six people to a table and by the end of the basic session (2.5 hours) they have learned to identify their needs and to use the networks of the people at the table to take the next steps in resolving their needs. This is pure magic. We look at the business theory related to networks – that networks provide you with access to markets or knowledge or people that are otherwise difficult to reach, they provide the possibility of developing unique knowledge, an essence of competitive advantage, and they provide connectedness and trust (but can also be exclusive, so beware!).
After laying the basis I usually insert elements into the workshop that are relevant to the organization or company I am working with. In the case of one multinational corporation I worked with, we looked at benchmarks for diversity across several industries and the participants developed a strategy to improve the score of their company. I often have a session using the skills developed in the morning to develop strategies for mobilizing financial resources.  The exact content of the second half of the program is determined after careful consultation with the client.
I am presently consulting with associations of women entrepreneurs in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia and providing the Mobilize Networks! workshop is part of the work. Between 25 January and 1 February I used the Net-Map exercise in my workshop, to create an understanding of the environment in which women entrepreneurs operate and the network of actors and linkages this entails. In Uganda for example we had a table with poultry farmers and they wanted to know who influences the market for poultry farmers. In Tanzania we had three tables of people in the honey industry and in Ethiopia we had the service industry, the honey industry and the coffee industry. Each country also had a handcrafts table.
We had many and varied maps, and people were glued to the process. We started the Net-Map before lunch. In Tanzania women came in from lunch early so they could keep working together on their maps. I found that 3 hours was a good amount of time to spend on this exercise.
My favorite question, when looking at the finished maps with the whole group (30 – 40 people) was: “What have you learned?” The answer is inevitably that they have a better grasp of the industry and its environment. One great answer was: “We usually discover the actors, the linkages and the power differentials once we have a problem. We are swimming upstream. With this map, we can be ahead of the game and develop better strategies.”
After completing the maps and sharing the results, I ask people to write down what their next step will be to put the learning into action. The poultry people realized they needed to improve their relationship with the bank. In Tanzania the handicrafts people saw that too few organizations and institutions are concerned with quality and their next step will be to work to change this.
At the end of the session there was lightness in the room: people had developed a deep understanding and that was empowering.
All 100 participants received a link to your blog. Quite a number of the participants are trainers themselves, and I hope some of them will take the exercise into their practice.
Lin McDevitt-Pugh MBA, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Have you used Net-Map in your work and want to contribute your experience to our growing community of practice? Write it up and send it to me ( so that I can add your voice to this blog. And feel free to send pictures as well.