Net-Map training in DC, November 15-16th, 2018.

I am excited to invite you to our next Net-Map training in DC on the November 15-16, 2018. For me, the Net-Map certification training is a highlight of my year: A diverse group of passionate professionals gets together to learn and play and develop concrete plans to use Net-Map in their work or research context. What I love about the trainings is that everyone steps out of their normal work environment, so there is a freedom to commit yourself to deep experiential learning – without the stress of hierarchy or constant emails and interruption.

What you can expect: Two days of learning, in very practical ways, how to use Net-Map and the new DataMuse app, how to apply it to a question you bring to the course from your own work or personal life, intense peer-learning, and the opportunity to develop a Net-Map implementation plan, have it vetted by your peers and teachers and be ready, as you step out of the door, to start Net-Mapping.

And to make the course as diverse and accessible as possible, we have some options for for reduced fees for those of you who are students or have been out of work for a while. Check it out here-

Hope to see you there.

First Net-Map Certification Training in Canada (June 20 and 21st)

Disentangling complex influence networks, improving stakeholder engagement, developing personal networking strategies, fostering positive team dynamics or understanding why your technically sound plan failed dramatically: these are just a few things Net-Mappers do with pen, paper and toys. The tool has been used by fortune 500 companies to understand their business relationships and overcome organizational development hurdles on the one end of the spectrum, and by researchers and development projects to improve community engagement in Africa or understand which illicit influencers block important tax reform projects.

We have had a steady flow of Canadians coming to our trainings in DC and finally two of them are saying “That’s it! Let’s take this home!” Certified Net-Mappers Stephen Sillet and Jennifer Jimenez of Aiding Dramatic Change in Development have joined forces with Amit Nag, long-time DC Net-Map trainer and developer of the DataMuse Influence Mapping App, to offer a two day certification training in Toronto (June 20 – June 21st). Find all the details here.

A few spaces are still open, and the easiest way to sign up is via this blog. Just click below. As you can see, we have listened to our participants, who have asked us to reduce the price for self-paying individuals and students, to make this training as accessible as possible.

During this training you will be the first cohort to be introduced to the new Influence Mapping App, which is designed to allow non-geeks to intuitively enter, visualize, play with and share data generated from the paper Net-Maps. Amit is currently in Togo, West Africa, and doing the first field tests with local consultants, who say that: “It’s just a click and it’s fun. Intuitive, visual, no training required. It’s great how anyone can use it and just play around with it.”

(If you have ever tried to learn one of the standard network analysis software packets, I would guess – drawing from my own experience – that those were not your feelings on the first day…)

So, join our great team of trainers in Toronto and start untangling your own networks.

To register for the workshop please contact Amit at, or Stephen at

For innovation: Amplify the low signal


Crow brings the daylight, by Ruth Meharg

My work often involves getting familiar with a new country and sector in a short amount of time, discussing challenges with many different stakeholders and together developing and implementing strategies for change.

One skill which is crucial for this is the ability to detect patterns quickly, understand what the common themes are, the issues, people, strategies and conflicts which are mentioned again and again. What is the shared story on which we can build our planning? What are the loudest and most consistent signals?

However, one great risk when listening for the common pattern is that you distill the story that everybody knows already and focus on the issues that everybody agrees are THE issues. If you want to help people discover new possibilities, experiment with new solutions, discover the positive deviants that exist already, you have to grow a third ear which listens for things that are only said in passing (or not at all), for ideas that people laugh about or don’t dare believe in, for challenges that cannot be discussed out in the open and sometimes you have to be the one who mentions that the emperor might have forgotten to get dressed…

But how do you know what is an interesting low signal and what is just plain noise?

I tend to pick up a number of different half-sentence ideas as I travel through the system and then I try them out when I talk to the next person. Many of the ideas don’t make it to the third or forth discussion but every once in a while, the next person says: “Well, I hadn’t thought about that but now that you say it…” and they start adding weight, color, texture and context to this idea.  And slowly a new door opens, a different approach emerges or we develop a clearer understanding of a long overlooked risk.

Amplifying a low signal is something I could never do alone, it is rather that I start bouncing these signals off other people and see if they disappear or become stronger.

Identifying international knowledge partnerships

With my colleagues Kerstin Tebbe and Bruno Laporte I just had an interesting design conversation for a session in which they want to help the members of a water basin commission better understand with whom they have knowledge exchange partnerships. We realized soon that this is not going to be a Net-Map session or a session of some squeezed out, shrunk down little cousin of Net-Map. So the proposed steps are the following:

  1. All 20 participants (individually) write the names of the commission’s most important and reliable knowledge partners on index cards (with thick marker and great handwriting). The cards are color-coded by categories, e.g. government on green cards, civil society on red.
  2. They put all cards on a large table and start looking for duplicates – if both of us wrote University of XYZ, we stack these cards to reduce the number of cards we are dealing with.
  3. Depending on the number of remaining cards (judgment call in the situation), they instruct the group to get up and take all cards (or only those of actors that have been mentioned at least twice), and walk to a large, sketched  map on the floor of the 5 countries involved. They distribute the actor cards on the map, according to the country the actor is located in.
  4. As this very rough geographical actor map emerges, the participants consider a number of questions: Do we have stronger networks in some countries than others? Are some colors (i.e. actor categories) overrepresented on the map – or in some countries? Who is missing? What is the difference between the stack of cards I produced on my own and the map that emerged as we started putting it all together? How can we, as a group, access this whole richness, instead of just our own little corners?

This activity is located at the start of a longer engagement to improve the knowledge exchange and management of this organization, so they don’t have to answer all the questions in the world, the goal is rather to get the conversation started, to invite the complexity into the room without being overwhelmed.

I am curious to hear what you think about this? Would it work in your context? Can you think of something which would even sharpen or further enrich the activity? Have we overlooked a critical risk? And, don’t you love the artwork above, which Tara Donovan (picture credit) created out of thousands and thousands of index cards?

Two Brazilian Net-Map studies: Fair Trade and Cotton

Does Fair Trade in Brazil meet its objective of really increasing fairness and reaching the poor? Can innovation networks successfully be created to increase the access of family farms to cotton innovations and markets? These questions are explored by using Net-Map in the studies below, which were shared by our Net-Mapping colleague Patricia Andrade de Oliveira e Silva. Do you know of Net-Map studies we haven’t featured here? Please share so that we can make them available to the broader community of practice.
1) Fair trade networks : organization, relationship and values. Abstract: The characteristics of the dominant economic system and its implications on agriculture, while creating trends of concentration, standardization and exclusion, they also create opportunities that can act in the opposite direction, allowing the development of niches and differentiation based on product characteristics / services, processes and producers themselves. The Fair Trade has emerged as a proposal for inclusion of players with limited potential of insertion in the conventional market, aiming not only the economic viability, but quality attributes and other dimensions that are not valued by market mechanisms. This doctoral dissertation seeks to answer in which extent Fair Trade can meet its original objectives, working on extended networks of producers and trade. It thus tries to see how some networks of Fair Trade certified and not certified are organized, emphasizing the relationships established and the overriding objectives of the actors involved that determine these relationships. The methodology was based on literature review, interviews, observation and analysis of social networks. Actors from eight Fair Trade networks were interviewed using the method Net-Map Toolbox (SCHIFFER, 2011) to map different relations between actors (support, subsidies, trade, personal, conflicts and norms), their influence and their objectives (economic, group cohesion, development, politcs, exploitation and disruption). To analyze the composition of networks and the cohesion of the relations it were used the programs Ucinet (BORGATTI; EVERETT; FREEMAN, 2002) e NetDraw (BORGATTI, 2002) and densities, reciprocity and transitivity were estimated. Website:

2) Cotton : networks, technology and environment. Abstract: Since the 1990s the Brazilian cotton industry is showing growth, with the adoption of technologies, particularly genetically modified varieties of cotton, whose cultivation was released in 2005 as a major actor in increased productivity and consequent resumption of culture in ancient regions disadvantaged producers by crises that caused the decline of this culture. We observed a resurgence of cotton production in various regions of the country the scenery is still great disparity between the productive regions of the Mid – West and Northeast. Access to technology, education level, and access to technical assistance are the main vectors of inequalities. With regard to access to technology, it can be stated that regardless of the greater or lesser availability of technologies developed for family farmers, must have showed clear that most main difficulty relates to the ability to innovate, and this is related not only to technology itself, but also to the insertion in the markets, financing conditions, availability of resources, risk analysis, among other factors. Thus the creation of social networks among small cotton farmers has proved to be an alternative in order to have better access to technology. It is in this context that the network of cotton farmers Catuti was chosen to be the object of study of this dissertation in that it draws attention for being an organization of small producers who resumed the cultivation of cotton through the use of transgenic seeds, and present extraordinary gains production, planting and sustainably. The case study showed PAJEK through the software, the organization in network provides the link various actors of distinct natures, which in turn enables the insertion in the market and the adoption of technology by small farmers associated with the Cooperative Rural Producers Catuti (COOPERCAT). Website:

Network Pattern Cards

network pattern cards with copyright a

By relating their own experience to prototypical network patterns, groups can get a deeper understanding of how they work together (or not) and what the opportunities and challenges of each of the different patterns of self-organization are. Also, these patterns give group members a language to talk about how they experience collaboration, what they appreciate or struggle with and what kind of network structure they prefer. In many cases this will be more of an exploration and an exercise to understand other’s preferences better – because every pattern carries challenges and opportunities, there is no one perfect solution for the group to discover.

These cards can be used in many different ways – and the patterns are far from complete. Please find detailed instructions for one exploratory exercise with groups here (inclusive of an easy to print version of the patterns). And don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, ideas for missing patterns, examples of how you used this etc.

network pattern cards with copyright c

network pattern cards with copyright b

The risks of making it look too easy

Is it as easy as child’s play? (image by

I  always try to speak about my work in a way that everyone can understand me – whether they are experts in my field or not. Because I want to make sure that what I do matters to others – and if it does, I should be able to explain it in a way that they will understand. But recently I am wondering if this approach has backfired in unexpected ways.

When I developed Net-Map more than eight years ago, my driving force was this: The basic concepts behind network analysis are all common sense (“It’s not just what you know but who you know”) – yet the language with which they are often explained is so abstract that it is hard to even take the first step in understanding them. Why can’t I develop a way of speaking about and using network analysis which is immediately useful for lay-people, without translation by an expert. So, I developed Net-Map and have gone on using it in African villages, with children (as young as 3), in fortune 500 companies and community groups. And all along I have tried so speak plain English (or German or French) – so plain, in fact, that one early advisor said: “You have to use more difficult terms, if you want to be taken seriously.” I didn’t. But the comment was still very valuable, because it made me understand that I fit much better in the world of practical application than that of abstract research, so I started my long and winding road away from research.

Yesterday though,  I had a conversation with my fellow Net-Mapper Amit Nag and we started wondering: Are we making it look too easy? Are we inviting people with a smile, telling them that this will be all smooth sailing and then they are not prepared for the hurricane ahead? And, by doing that, are we preventing them from really benefiting from the method in full?

A pattern that we have observed in our recent work is this: We present, in simple language, with colorful examples and five easy steps, how to do a Net-Map. Then we guide a group through the experience of drawing it around one of their issues. Then they are excited and run off to start using it in their own work.

A few weeks later we might see the results and… well. They did follow the five easy steps. But still, the mapping has not been as powerful and useful as it could have been, because of one or more of the following:

  • They didn’t ask a good guiding Net-Map question – to the map doesn’t focus on the core question.
  • They didn’t invite the right people in the room.
  • When there were disagreements, the group forced itself to agree instead of digging deeper and understanding more.
  • There was too little time to have a conversation, so the group just rushed to get the mapping done. Or, they got so lost in conversation, that they never finished the map.
  • No one took useful notes, so it is impossible to understand the map if you were not at the table.
  • They intended to use the map for action planning but didn’t know how to develop actions out of the map.
  • They asked about links that are not clearly defined, or not relevant for the issue.
  • They failed to connect the Net-Mapping to the bigger context of what they are doing.
  • Once the map was drawn, all they saw was a bowl of spaghetti diagram and no one helped them untangle it.

All of the above are my observations and maybe also just best guesses, because I was not in the room. In summary I could say: They didn’t get the full value out of Net-Mapping, because they were led to believe that knowing the five steps (categories of actors, actors, links, goals, influence towers)  is enough to know how to Net-Map.

So my question is: How can I invite people to confidently learn, play with and use Net-Map while at the same time clearly communicating that, in the end, it is not as easy as it looks? How can I help them learn the less straightforward and more tacit – or more academic – aspects of Net-Mapping? How can they understand that being a participant in a well facilitated Net-Map session is very different from being able to facilitate a Net-Map session well. I would love to hear from you, because it seems like this problem cannot be solved in the same mindset which has produced it. Any advice is welcome.

Net-Map workshop in DC – May 1-2, 2015

Come summer and it is that time of the year to immerse into mapping your complex networks. The two day Net-Map workshop teaches you basic understanding of the method, with emphasis on learning by drawing your network.

Net-Map is an interview-based mapping tool that helps people understand, visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which many different actors influence outcomes. By creating Influence Network Maps, individuals and groups can clarify their own view of a situation, foster discussion, and develop a strategic approach to their networking activities.

We will also introduce some exciting innovations in the next workshop. Join the growing community of practice and I hope to see you at the workshop. The venue is George Washington University. Please sign up here.

Join us: Largest international Net-Mapper meeting ever!

Wouldn’t it be great if Net-Mappers from all over the world could share their experience, learn from each other, build a common knowledge-base and just hang out and enjoy each other’s company? You might be working with Net-Map in your university, organization, consulting practice and maybe you are the only one excited by the participatory drawing of networks. Or, maybe a lot of your colleagues are excited, but they all have no clue how it really works, so you always have to be (or look like) the expert who knows everything. I am sure you have some great stories, lessons and results to share and together we might find the answers to your questions.

We (that’s Eva Schiffer, Jennifer Hauck, Amit Nag, Paolo Brunello and our Net-Mapping friends) are planning to have the biggest international meeting of Net-Mappers at the next Sunbelt Conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis in Brighton, UK (June 23rd to 28th, 2015). In addition to hosting one (or two) sessions which will be dedicated to applying network knowledge, we are planning to host a Net-Mapper get-together as informal side-event of the conference so that we can all get to know each other and each other’s work and start working together more closely.

We will discuss whatever questions are at the forefront of our minds. For me there are three things I am really curious about:

  • Learning more about all the great applications of the method to start having an extensive case collection.
  • Strategies for working together to make Net-Map interventions happen and grow the community of practice. This could lead to developing a database of international Net-Map consultants so if any of us wants to implement something that is bigger than one person, we know where to go.
  • Asking and answering questions about how to use and analyze Net-Map, moving the method forward and understanding it better.

To make this happen we need you. And you. And your net-mapping colleague too. If you are interested, please contact me directly. And submit an abstract for the Sunbelt Conference session on applying network knowledge.

Oh, and did I say that this is just the side-event? The main event is also pretty amazing. Sunbelt is the largest Social Network Analysis conference and it’s an great mix of the old gurus, the young geniuses, master’s students getting feedback for their half-done thesis, and everything in-between. Also, they have great hands-on introductory workshops on most of the common SNA software and approaches (including a Net-Map training) during the first two days of the conference. If you have never submitted an abstract to a conference and the task intimidates you, I am happy to talk you through it. And, surey, you can also come just as a participant, without presentation… but we would all be missing out, if you didn’t share your work. Looking forward to seeing you there!

How the poor adapt to climate change in Kenya and Ethiopia

Farmers in Ethiopia (picture credit Stevie Mann, ILRI)

… and what role their formal and informal networks play in this.

Let me share some of the work my former colleagues at IFPRI have been doing with Net-Map. This is the result of their field work in Ethiopia and Kenya, looking at the strategies and networks of stakeholders in their adaptation to climate change. They point to the challenges of taking action and innovating in a highly centralized system, where success and failure lies on the shoulders of a burdened few and there is little communication between other actors. And they highlight the risk of having self-perpetuating discussions in the high offices of powerful local and international elites, with little direct relevance or contact to those men and women who have to deal with the effects of climate change on their farms on a daily basis. Read the full Kenya and Ethiopia reports here. And if you want to share your Net-Map work, whether it is an extensive PhD research or a brief field report, please contact me so that I can share it with the wider Net-Mapping community.

If you want to read more in general about effects of climate change on the people in Kenya and Ethiopia, this article in the Guardian about the ongoing drought in Kenya paints a painful picture of the day-to-day realities on the ground