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

Facilitate! Don’t be a Clever-Bully

Clever-Bully (picture by Diamond Select Toys)

I’ve been teaching Net-Map a lot, lately. And while my participants probably think it is most difficult to find the right Net-Map question or define good links (and yes, those are challenges), what is most difficult to do and most difficult (impossible?) to teach, is to facilitate a Net-Map session well.

So many things can happen in the group that maps, they can misunderstand instructions, get stuck in analysis paralysis, launch into conflict and, oh yes, they can get it all wrong! Or can they? Well, maybe… or maybe you are just being a clever-bully instead of being a facilitator.

What is a clever-bully? Someone who does not help the group to develop their own insights, think things through in their own minds, walk their own winding path to deeper insights¬†but is so impressed by his or her own quick and impressive assessment of the situation that they have to tell the group the “solution” before the group even had the time to think. To be a really good (i.e. obnoxious) clever-bully you have to be so stubbornly sure of your storyline that you try to convince your group of your logic, even if they disagree. Remember, they don’t disagree with you because they maybe know their own story better than you do or they have a different perspective than you. They disagree either to be difficult or because they just don’t get it. So you have to push harder against the difficult ones and explain in more detail for the slow ones. Because what is the value of groups doing their own thinking if the solution you can present is so much better than what they ever could come up with?

How come I know so well what the clever-bully thinks? Maybe because I have one sitting in my head too. And I have to sometimes hold him back, take a deep breath, keep my mouth shut and remind myself that I know nothing about other people’s problems and that watching someone swim has never saved anyone from drowning…