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:

http://www.kulturkonzept-hbn-son.de/

german culture Net-Map two

Are you we? Or are you I?

And she said WHAT?

Working in an international organization, I see that we have a strange mixed relationship to our awareness of cultural differences. We think about them when we go to the field, especially if the field is an actual field (as in “rural”). But we try to forget that they exist when we’re at headquarters, interacting with our colleagues from all over the world.

I was reminded of that today when a small group of colleagues disagreed about how you best frame a problem you have with how the team does things. Do you say: “I don’t like this.” or rather “As a group we could achieve so much more if we changed this.” If you come from a culture that puts a high value on individual responsibility and ownership, you probably think telling what you don’t like is honest, you are taking ownership and you leave it to the others to decide what they will do about it. And you feel that talking about how the group could benefit from changing is just trying to hide what you want behind some politically correct, unclear diffusion of your own agenda.

If, on the other hand, you come from a group oriented culture, “I don’t like this” may feel like watching a screaming toddler who wants everyone to jump to their likes and dislikes, taking no responsibility for the larger good. And framing a change you advocate for in the light of the group’s benefit is the natural way to show how you care and that your own desires only really matter if they are aligned with the benefit of the bigger group.

And if we choose to ignore our cultural differences, it is very possible to have a conversation between two well meaning colleagues where one thinks the other is pushing a hidden agenda while the other thinks their colleague is a pushy egomaniac. While both feel very confident they are being responsible and communicating to the highest standards (of their respective cultures).

(Disclaimer: Our team discussion got to the point of making the differences explicit so everyone left with renewed respect for the other person’s good intentions…)