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:

Influence

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

Goals

  •  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

Connections

  • 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

RWS_Tarot_02_High_Priestess

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 http://www.msh.org 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:
Ciao!

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!