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Social network analysis (SNA)

Aim of the tool
To structure relationships, collaboration, information flows. You can look at one point in time and compare it with another

When to use it?
This tool can be used at the beginning of an intervention process. It can also be used for evaluation purposes. Roles of stakeholders may change over time, and this means that you will have to update your stakeholder analysis.

How difficult is it to use it?
Easy – moderate – for experienced users/facilitators
Facilitator needs special digital skills!

Tool for thought or tool for action?
Tool for thought and for action

With this tool you can analyse and structure large datasets

Issues to be aware of

  • For this tool you will need special software and possess digital skills. You cannot answer causality questions with this tool.
  • There are challenges associated with using the tool in terms of determining boundaries, the length of time needed to study relationships, NGOs understanding SNA, the accuracy of responses, data entry and data analysis

Description of the tool
SNA involves the study of relationships in the context of social situations. It comprises a set of measures and analysis tools to describe and understand relational data. You can look at the structure of relationships and/or attributes of actors. It differentiates itself from other methodologies by its use of “relationship” as the unit of analysis. You can either focus on multiple actors (system) or relationships of a single actor.

The size of the network equals the number of its members. It is very important to set boundaries. A relationship can be one-way or reciprocal. You can look at the existing relationship, the type of relationship, frequency of interaction, and/or value of the relationship and cohesion of the relationship (in terms of the distance between actors), see Examples.


Steps involved in using the tool
You can use special software to illustrate the relationships in the social network. You can turn numbers into a visual map. There are many packages available, often for free. And while we are not advocating the use one particular software program over the other, we have worked well with the free, but basic Social Network Visualizer.

SNA has its limitations in explaining power dynamics in networks, so we agree with Schiffer in recommending that you combine SNA with power mapping. Another software package is: Netdraw (free) and UCINET (you will have to purchase this one), which is a combined package, or Microsoft NodeXL (free - it works as a plug-in to Excel 2007), or Visualyzer (it offers a free trial period before purchasing).

Eventually the diagram will show which stakeholders are well-connected to each other, and what sub-coalitions are present.

SNA, also referred to as Spider Web Network Diagram, can also be done on paper, a whiteboard or wallpaper, to help make an ‘initial sweep’ of stakeholders and their characteristics, as well as to identify the roles of stakeholders. Agree on a legend, such as intermittent arrows for weak connections and thick arrows for strong connections. Arrows can point both ways. You can always choose different colours to signify different types of relationships. A spider diagram can even be extended to an inner and outer circle, with those present/active in the inner circle and those who are not (but should be) are placed outside.

Source and further readings