Public Policy and the Idea of the Vietnamese State: The Cultural Political Economy of Domestic Water Supply

A Net-Map study on formal and informal water governance in Vietnam, by Nadine Reis and Peter P. Molinga:

Using Rural Water Supply (RWS) policy practices as a case study,this article shows that the disjunction between implementation as formally conceived and informally practised is not a question of ineffective policy cycle dynamics, but rather an inherent feature of Vietnam’s Cultural Political Economy. Drawing on critical realist approaches to social and state theory, we argue that formal and informal RWS policy practices, as a set of two interconnected spheres, serve as key, separate but connected, mechanisms for reproducing the distribution of material resources (primarily through the informal sphere) and the hegemony of ideas (primarily through the formal sphere) in Vietnamese society. We conclude that the formal, administrative practices of RWS policy are primarily to be understood in their function of reproducing the idea of the state and state legitimacy. RWS administrative practices function to sustain the core social and political order in Vietnam as institutionalised in “the state”, rather than being primarily oriented to improving rural water supply. The findings raise questions for donor-supported programs that focus on formal administrative institutions and practices for improving the performance of the water sector.

Net-Mapping the Water-Food-Energy Nexus in the Upper Blue Nile in Ethiopia

When dealing with the challenges of a country like Ethiopia, focusing just on water, or food, or energy is a tall order already. Given how one influences the other, it is, however, not focus which is needed but integration – of issues and also of those people dealing with them. My colleague Christian Stein shared his research on the issue with me. Below is the summary and here is the full paper he wrote, together with Jennie Barron, Likimyelesh Nigussie, Birhanu Gedif, Tadesse Amsalu and Simon Langan for the International Water Management Institute:

Ethiopia is currently undergoing rapid development, heavily reliant on its natural resources such as water and land. The government’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) and its Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy set ambitious targets in a variety of sectors including water, food and energy. In order to avoid trade-offs and create synergies between different development agendas, integrated planning and cross-sectorial coordination is crucial. The so-called ‘nexus approach’ is a recent way to frame the interconnected challenges in water, food and energy with the ambition to align policies for sustainable development.

This study fills a gap in the nexus debate by focusing on concrete actors and the nexus challenges they struggle with, instead of on abstract systems and the resource flows between sectors. Based on participatory, visual network mapping and focus group discussions, the paper illustrates three interdependent challenges of the water-energy-food nexus in the Upper Blue Nile in Ethiopia. First, it points to the central role of biomass-based energy resources and the need to balance national ambitions for hydropower and immediate energy needs for rural communities. Second, it identifies agricultural water management as a critical issue where linkages across sectors and scales need to be improved. Third, it highlights the need to strengthen actors working on environmental sustainability issues, and generating political support for their objectives, by making available evidence on the value of nature for development.

The findings of this scoping study show that participatory network research can facilitate dialogue and colearning among researchers and a range of actors on the interconnected challenges of the water-energy-food nexus. Such collaborative learning processes can play an important role in moving toward better coordination between key actors and improved development planning within the Upper Blue Nile.”

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

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!

Oh the sheer beauty of networks…

I could spend days surfing the 777 different projects that the visualcomplexity project has gathered, some of them amaze me because of what they are about, more of them just because they are so beautiful. Some examples, just to get you started

Nike city runs NYC

“Nike+ involves the placement of a sensor underneath the foot bed of your Nike running shoe in order to collect data about where you’ve run, how long it took and where you can improve over time – since each individual run becomes part of a collective historical database. Even though Nike+ website already gives individual users a variety of features to make sense of their personal data, the collective analysis of this growing database is remarkably promising.

The interactive collective YesYesNo developed an installation for Nike’s retail stores to visualize a year’s worth of runs uploaded to the Nike+ website. With custom software, the installation plays back runs throughout three cities: New York, London and Tokyo. The runs showed tens of thousands of peoples’ runs animating the city and bringing it to life. The software visualizes and follows individual runs, as well as showing the collective energy of all the runners, defining the city by the constantly changing paths of the people running in it.”

Visualizing Databases Stanford
“Using the visualization tool Gephi, Elijah Meeks has produced a series of experiments depicting databases in diverse styles. The images show here are mapping the top contributors to the Catalogue of Life and their associated species, references and databases.

As Elijah states: “While it could be argued that all databases can be devolved into graph databases, and as such all databases are graphs and therefore networks in the most pure sense, I think that there’s something more practical at play here: the importance of network visualization for database aesthetics. Summaries and statistics drawn from within the structure of the database are not enough. If there is to be any real grappling with the database as an culturally-embedded construct, then it has to be done in a manner that reveals the data, the model and the population simultaneously.”

Stephanie Posavec Writing without words Kerouac
“Writing Without Words, by Stephanie Posavec is a series of striking visualizations exploring the differences in writing style between authors of various modern classics. The images shown here are a visualization of Part One from the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac. In this piece, entitled Literary Organism, each literary component was divided hierarchically into even smaller parts – Part, Chapters, Paragraphs, Sentences, and ultimately Words, the smallest branch in the diagram. Stephanie also created different colors to distinguish the eleven thematic categories she created for the entirety of On the Road. Some categories include: Social Events & Interaction, Travel, Work & Survival, and Character Sketches, among others.

This is how NOTCOT describes Stephanie’s work:”The maps visually represent the rhythm and structure of Kerouac’s literary space, creating works that are not only gorgeous from the point of view of graphic design, but also exhibit scientific rigor and precision in their formulation: meticulous scouring the surface of the text, highlighting and noting sentence length, prosody and themes, Posavec’s approach to the text is not unlike that of a surveyor. And similarly, the act is near reverential in its approach and the results are stunning graphical displays of the nature of the subject. The literary organism, rhythm textures and sentence drawings are truly gorgeous pieces.”

Can a high school drop-out find a job with Net-Map?


(Picture copyright Lydia on flickr)

Karen is an 18 year old high school drop-out with a criminal record for shop-lifting, some limited work experience at McDonald’s, a boyfriend she rarely talks to and no idea how she can start earning enough money to move out of her mother’s place and start a more independent life. Will drawing a Net-Map help her understand who can help her make the next step, who she needs to avoid, what issues she has to tackle next and where some unexplored opportunities lie?

It seems like the answer is yes. Well, kind-of… Because Karen is the role one of our Net-Map training participants played, she isn’t a real teenager, but rather the aggregate of a number of girls our colleague has worked with. To figure out if this method could possibly work in untangling the web of family, friends, parole officers, minimum wage employers etc. that may influence the next step forward for a girl like Karen. As the role play went on it became more and more involved and somehow felt real. The most powerful part of it came at the end, when “Karen” started considering how to change the influence of different actors in the network. What it would feel like if some of the influence was taken away from her boyfriend and transferred to her. What would it take? Could you make it happen? What is stopping you?

I am excited to see that we, as a community of practice, are expanding what Net-Map can do, working with it as a tool for personal counselling and working with younger audiences. As some regular readers might know, my youngest Net-Mapper was my daughter, at age three, when we mapped out “Who loves who in the family.” And I am convinced that understanding the power of your networks, both positive and negative, can be a game changer for teenagers at the cross-roads. So, if you do have a teenager at hand who is willing to try it out, it would be wonderful if you could Net-Map their future with them. Not the whole wide expanse of all of their future. But a challenging and concrete next step that they need to master. And please, share your experience.


Case Study: Analyzing the political economy of the charcoal sector in Tanzania

Charcoal Trader (copyright by Klas Sander)

Charcoal Trader (copyright by Klas Sander)



Klas Sander (World BankClemens Gros (UNICEF) and Christian Peter (World Bank) used Net-Map in this study to get a structured and reliable understanding of how the charcoal sector works and what may be done to improve it. What they find especially exciting is how Net-Map has helped them take the stories and annecdotal knowledge about the issue and turn it into validated, more structured insights.


With about 95 percent of all households in urban areas relying on charcoal to meet energy needs, charcoal is one of the most important energy sources in Tanzania. High population growth rates coupled with accelerated urban development and relative cost increases of alternative fuels indicate that the importance of charcoal is unlikely to decline in the near future. Systemic initiatives to render the sector more environmentally and economically sustainable are missing or have remained largely ineffective. A weak formal governance framework as well as regulatory overlaps and gaps are often identified as principal reasons. Nonetheless, the underlying political economy supporting and maintaining the status quo is only poorly understood and no attempt has so far been made for a formal analysis and documentation.

Applying an established methodology, this article provides a unique analysis of the political economy of the charcoal sector in Tanzania. It documents social, political, and economic explanations that existed as anecdotal evidence only and explains why a reform dialogue needs to be sensitive. While the analysis focuses on Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it shows that findings apply to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa facing similar challenges. It provides a comprehensive example for approaching charcoal sector reforms, requiring identification of the problems and an open dialogue within and among stakeholders, new policies and a subsequent strategic decision clearly stating overarching goals and specific objectives.