On Tuesday, June 18th, GBEN hosted its second roundtable on the topic of social network analysis. Over a dozen GBEN members and guests participated. The roundtable discussion was led by Kelly Washburn, MPH, from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement. Kelly is also one of GBEN’s Programming Committee co-chairs.
Social network analysis (SNA) is the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers or other information/knowledge processing entities.” (Valdis Krebs, 2002). SNA can show the performance of the network as a whole and its ability to achieve its key goals, characteristics of the network that are not immediately obvious, such as the existence of a smaller sub-network operating within the network, the relationships between prominent people of interest whose position may provide the greatest influence over the rest of the network, and how directly and quickly information flows between people in different parts of the network.
Kelly walked through a small social network analysis she conducted to walk participants through the different steps needed, challenges, and lessons learned. The project discussed was a provider task force improving connections among services providers, streamlining services, and enhancing care coordination efforts. The SNA provided a baseline on how the task force members work with each other by asking four questions:
- Do you know this person?
- Have you gone to this person for information in the last year?
- Have you worked with this person to obtain new resources in the last year?
- Have you referred a client to their organization in the last year?
The analysis was done in Gephi, a free software for conducting social network analyses. Data cleaning was the most tedious part of the project and was done manually; however, there are ways to bypass the manual data cleaning. After the data is set-up in the appropriate Node and Edges file, they are uploaded into Gephi. Once in Gephi, the steps detailed in their manuals were followed to take it from the initial map to the finalized map. Following Kelly’s discussion of her project, others in attendance spoke of their own experiences of using social network analysis in their work.
Key Challenges and Lessons Learned:
The roundtable participants discussed a few challenges and lessons learned when conducting a SNA, including:
- New analytical methods and techniques, like SNA, can require a lot of patience and time to learn and master. Be sure to invest the necessary time when learning how to conduct a SNA for the first time.
- A high response rate means A LOT of follow-up to ensure the data is representative of the population you are analyzing. Be sure to invest the necessary time and resources to doing follow-up for your project.
- Make sure the questions being asked are the right questions as it’s difficult to change directions once the project and analysis has started.
- Continually ask yourself and/or your team(s): Do I need to collect new data or is there already collected data I can use for the SNA?
- SNA can be frustrating to administer and master at times. Patience during the process is key to ensuring a successful outcome.
- The visual map was key for the task force in understanding the analysis.