Evaluating the Effectiveness of Social Networks

While simply having a reliable map of a network is valuable, it is also important to assess the performance of the network.  Hoppe and Reinelt reported on several different dimensions for evaluating network effectiveness, beginning with “connectivity”.  The purpose of social network analysis on this topic is to identify which individuals are core or peripheral members of the network; identify the points in the network where bonding and bridging are occurring; and identify the persons who appear to be the most influential within the network.  Evaluation questions relating to connectivity include:

  • Does the structure of network connectivity enable efficient sharing of information, ideas, and resources?
  • Is the network expanding and growing more interconnected over time? How far does the network reach?
  • Does the network effectively bridge clusters (e.g., sectors, communities, fields, and perspectives)? Where in the network are there unlikely alliances?
  • What changes in connectivity have resulted from explicit interventions, such as a leadership development program?

Social network analysis alone is not sufficient to fully understand all the connections that appear when a network is mapped and the data analysis should be supplemented by other research techniques, such as interviews, to get a fully picture of what persons are actually doing with one another and how and why they connect.

A second topic is “overall network health”, which focuses on various measures of network performance and calls for consideration of the following evaluation questions:

  • What is the level of trust among members in the network?
  • How diverse is the network?
  • Are people participating and exercising leadership as they are able to and would like?
  • Is the structure appropriate for the work of the network?
  • What are the power relationships within the network and how are decisions made? How well do networks manage conflicts?
  • Is the network balanced and dynamic (e.g., capable of growing more inclusive while sustaining collaboration)?
  • What changes in network health have resulted from explicit interventions, such as a leadership development program?

Hoppe and Reinelt pointed out that evaluating overall network health requires collecting and analyzing responses from a diverse group of network members in both the core and periphery parts of the network.  When conducting surveys, copies of the network maps should be distributed so that respondents can get a clear picture of what the network appears to look like and the types of connections that are present and working.

A third topic of interest is “network outcomes and impact” which can be evaluated using the following questions:

  • Is there evidence of greater coordination or collaboration among leaders?
  • Does the network promote higher levels of civic participation and engagement in each of its members?
  • Does the network make the most of scarce resources to produce desired results? Are more innovative products being developed?
  • Is the network positively influencing policy decision-making or how resources are allocated?
  • What changes in network outcomes and impact have resulted from explicit interventions, such as a leadership development program?

The best ways to gather information on network outcomes and impacts are interviews, case studies and traditional survey methods.

Source: B. Hoppe and C. Reinelt, “Social Network Analysis and the Evolution of Leadership Networks”, The Leadership Quarterly, 21 (2010), 600, 604-606.

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Alan Gutterman is the Founding Director of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project and more materials on organizational design are available from the Project by clicking here.

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