How to get strategic insights from Net-Map

Just a bowl of spaghetti with toys on top?

So, you have done the mapping, in front of you a messy bowl-of-spaghetti-with-toys-on-top-diagram and your participants or clients ask you:


So what do we do now? What does this mean?

While the content of the answer will be different in every case, here are some guiding principle to direct your eyes and your thought when looking for strategic insights from a Net-Map: In general three issues are considered: Actor Influence, Goals and Connections, with the following lines of thought:


  • Influential actors who can harm / support
  • Increasing or decreasing actor influence
  • Diverse sources of influence


  •  Understanding reasons / motivations / fears / aspirations behind goals
  • Working with, connecting, strengthening positive actors
  • Dealing with, mitigating risk concerning negative actors
  • Changing actor goals toward more positive


  • Network patterns and their effects (e.g. centralization vs. decentralization, boundary spanners, disconnected silos)
  • Tension or reinforcement of formal vs. informal links
  • Connections which create destructive forces in the system
  • Missing links
  • Connecting positive actors (coalition), understanding negative coalitions, engaging mixed actors
  • Dividing negative actors

Make your own oracle – or just use mine


I am fascinated with card decks that help you think, discover, work in groups, get unstuck. I have talked with some amazing people about their cards: Keith McCandless one of the creators of liberating structures,  Dave Pollard of the team behind group works deck, Tom  Wambke who is in the process of turning the compass online facilitation resources into a card deck – in an great google hangout facilitated and convened by Nancy White of full circle associates.

What brought this conversation on is a card deck on network structures that can be helpful or harmful to the success of a project, which I am working on the moment. An unintended effect came a few nights after the hangout, when I had one of those moments of inspiration (of the “rainy season in Namibia type“) and created a daily question deck. It’s extremely simple and – as I am observing my first guinea pigs – quite powerful all the same. Each card has a question for you to ponder. That’s it. The way I am using it at the moment is: Every morning you draw a card and that is your question of the day. You put it in your pocket, on your desk, on your kitchen table and while you are going through your day as you normally would, the question is there, sitting there patiently, waiting for answers to bubble up. These are a whole range of questions, such as:

  • Who has your back?
  • What would happen if you said the truth?
  • What would a 4 year old recommend?
  • What would you do if you knew the answer?
  • What don’t you see?

I have formatted them so you can download them here (daily question cards) and print them on standard pre-perforated business cards and start playing right away. Go ahead: Print and play. Add your own. Tell me how you use them. What you learned. Do you work with other facilitation card decks that you find inspiring? I’d love to hear from you.

What is a link?

  • giving money,

    Are you connected by sausage links? (copyright by stevendepolo on Flickr)

  • giving advice,
  • loving,
  • hating,
  • being family member of,
  • killing,
  • torturing,
  • gossiping about,
  • putting pressure on,
  • giving flowers to,
  • trading with,
  • bribing,
  • being friends with,
  • supporting,
  • giving information to,
  • having conflict with,
  • having formal authority over,
  • trusting,
  • collaborating,
  • lobbying,
  • competing with,
  • knowing,
  • sending emails to,
  • having illicit affair with,
  • committing crimes together…

There are so many different ways in which actors can be connected. Most network analysis studies that I see just look at one kind of link. Often this is even as generic as claiming that one actor is “connected” to the other. Which, see above, can mean a lot of different things. When I map networks I like looking at the tension between the different kinds of connections between people. A classic one would be looking at how formal hierarchies and family connections impact on the influence of actors on policy outcomes. I have found that very often in Net-Mapping we revert to a number of standard links: Formal authority, formal money flows, flows of information and something like giving advice, lobbying or putting pressure on others. But I have also found that sometimes choosing unusual links, such as “who tortures whom?” can be very insightful (hopefully that is not the case at your office…). Also, combining links of very different kinds can help you get new insights about a system: When talking about preventing HIV, how about adding a material flow, instead of just asking how the information flows throught the system, follow the flow of condoms as well and find out whether they reach those who have gotten the information they need that makes them want to use condoms. Also, adding a negative linke, such as conflict, can add new insights and help you be more strategic. The is no “right” kind of link you absolutely have to ask about, in any study I could come up with, if not hundreds, at least ten different kinds of links that make a lot of sense. The right links to look at are those that will give you unexpected insights. And if you are looking at more than one kind of link at a time, make them as different from each other as possible.

Net-Map Manual in Portuguese!

I am thrilled to add a Portuguese version of the Net-Map manual to this blog. Please read, share and use it! And tell me about your experience.

Many thanks to

for putting so much work in the translation.

Net-Map at the ShareFair in Rome

Dear Net-Mappers, current and future, it’s a pleasure and honour to write my first post on this blog.
I went to the ShareFair in Rome last week and I spread the word about Net-Map like not even compulsive gossipers could do 😉
Together with Natalie Campbell of we ran a workshop on the first day and then I gave 2 introductory talks about it.
Here you are a detailed report and for those who wish to hear my take on Net-Map “wonders”, you can watch this:

Sign up for the Net-Map Summer School in Italy!

Net-Map proudly presents… [drumroll]:

The first ever Net-Map Summer School in Vicenza, Italy.

We will offer two beginners classes on the 20-21 of June and the 27-28 of June, where you will learn how to use Net-Map to understand complex and messy issues that involve many different actors with different goals, formal and informal links and different levels of influence. We will use your own case studies to learn the method and prepare your first Net-Map intervention with you. As an extra bonus you are entitled to 1 hour phone/skype conversation with me (Eva Schiffer, the inventor of Net-Map) within 6 months after the class, to help you implement this intervention.

On a more personal note: You will love Vicenza. It’s a beautiful, UNESCO world heritage site, ancient, but bustling with life, a brief one hour train ride from Venice. And, your family will also love it. I am bringing my mom and my 2 year old, and so far we are expecting two more children and two spouses. Our host Paolo Brunello is a native of Vicenza and has promised already to show us around the best places to eat and enjoy in Vicenza, plus he is offering a cultural trip to Venice for the whole family (if you bring them) on the day after the training.

>Have a look at our detailed program and sign up<

Catching the devil in the detail: Process Net-Map

Making a beautiful looking plan is one thing. Having actual impact on the ground is another. Sometimes the two are related…

When you think about projects that did or didn’t deliver, you see that very often the problem (or the reason for success) was in the details of the actual delivery process. This is why we (myself, Regina Birner at IFPRI, Jennifer Hauck at UFZ and other colleagues) felt that if you were able to map out these processes step-by-step you might understand something really powerful about success and failure of implementation.

We call the resulting method Process Net-Map and as you can see I’ve added a new page to this blog, dedicated to this approach. Read it, comment, ask questions, use it in your work and tell us what happened!

Cheat Sheet: Entering Net-Map data

Yesterday I prepared this one page guide to entering Net-Map data (236 KB) in an Excel file, so that it’s easy to import into VisuaLyzer or other social network analysis programs. I wrote this up for our IFPRI colleagues in Malawi, who are drawing Net-Maps with policy makers and others about fertilizer subsidies to understand how research can have a bigger effect on policy makers. But I know that the question of data management occurs in most projects when you use this method (unless you just want to draw and discuss, which sometimes is also enough), so let me share it here.

Shake ’em…

SID_1Imagine putting 60 people in a box and shaking it like crazy. Then you walk away and have no idea what will happen next.

That’s the feeling I had after an exciting Net-Mapping session with a group of development and knowledge management professionals at our SID workshop last Tuesday. I had warned the participants beforehand that the experience would be like ordering a great 5 course meal and any time the waitress comes with another course, she will set the plate down, let you try a few bites and run back to the kitchen to bring the next course before you even really appreciated the one in front of you. Squeezing a presentation (10.4 MB) and a practical Net-Map experience in 1 1/2 hours meant that we had to do a lot of squeezing…

So I was amazed at how well it worked. We had everyone sit around tables of six, one person would volunteer a real or fictional case and the rest would be the interviewers, asking the questions of:

  • Who is involved (write it on actor cards and distribute on map)
  • How are they linked (define and draw formal and informal links in different colors)
  • What are their goals (note next to actor card)
  • How influential are they (add influence towers to actor cards)

SID_2Then I let my inner drill sergeant take over and moved the group through these steps in less than an hour. At the end I asked every table to formulate the one most interesting or surprising thing they learned through this exercise:  Some participants talked more about the method and it’s possible applications, others talked about the way they had gathered a new understanding of a burning problem they face in their work situation or the political landscape of their field, but everyone seemed to have gotten some new insight out of it.

But in this short and intense period of time, there wasn’t enough space and focus to be able to look at the individual cases in more detail and as we rushed through the learning experiences of each table, there was a lot left unsaid. So, as I said, I felt like shaking this whole room full of people with no idea what this will lead to… I’m curious to hear if any of the ideas that people got during the exercise or after having slept on it, will grow into something…

SID_3(all pictures by SID Washington, more here)

Jennifer Hauck: Teaching and learning, learning and teaching

I think I like teaching, because I like doing several things at a time. While I tried my best to introduce the Net-Map tool to the students I had the chance to learn from the students as well, when they shared their experience with me.

I started with a very brief overview of how one can use the social network perspective to look at the world of social structures.

Subsequently my colleague Conrad Schetter, from the research group “Governance and Conflict” at the Center for Development research (ZEF) (who invited me to give this course in the first place – Thanks Conrad!) and I presented two case studies. The brief overview of our own research had the purpose of giving examples for possible questions and answers that can be acquired when looking at social networks.


After a brief explanation of the working steps, the students got their chance to draw networks themselves in small groups of three to four people. Every group got worksheets where the mapping steps were explained again. In addition slightly different instructions were given to the different groups as to how to organize the interview situation. One group discussed as a normal discussion group, without moderator or interviewer. A second group was instructed to select one interviewer and the rest were the “interview partners”. A third group should select one interview partner and the other group members each had their tasks, e.g. asking questions, taking notes and drawing the map.


The course ended with a discussion of the results and, most important, sharing the experience. The experiences are summarized in the following:


Previous knowledge of the research context helps to ask the right question and evaluate the usefulness of the answers.

Research question must be clear, e.g. level of analysis or time period of interest should be narrowed down.

Good knowledge of the interview partner is crucial, otherwise the network information remains superficial.

It is a good idea to start the interview process or pre-tests with people you know and who will allow you to access “sensitive” information. However, afterwards it is crucial to broaden the range of interview partners to capture as many different views as possible.

Interviewing people in small, homogeneous groups can be of advantage as they can share information and learn from each other. This process can be very enlightening for the interviewer as well.

A single interviewer may be over-whelmed by the tasks to handle during the interview (interviewing, drawing the network, translating, documenting the process, etc). Too many interviewers may irritate the interview partner. The number of interviewer should be adjusted to the situation.

Information acquired can be quite delicate. Make sure nobody but you has access to the information and disguise the information if you present it and let your interview partner know that you will do so.

If you realize that there is no new information per interview, you could consider to stop the interviewing process.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the participants for their attention and active participation and look forward to the next course!