Generating ideas, connections, and action

How a Social Network Analysis (SNA) can help leadership development programs

Over the past several months the Leadership Learning Community has had the opportunity to partner with the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York to conduct a Social Network Analysis of their Health Leadership Fellows Program graduate network.   Since many leadership programs could benefit from an SNA, we wanted to share examples about how the HLFP will be able to use social network maps:

  1. The SNA will compliment an evaluation by providing a visual representation of the ways in which relationships cultivated through the program are continuing as a source of peer learning, mutual support and collaborations that are seeking to produce better health outcomes.
  2. The SNA will provide the network with a better understanding of its strengths and opportunities for activating learning and action.

About the program: The goal of the Health Leadership Fellows (HLF) program is to expand a network of skilled leaders that will learn to lead collaboratively from both within and outside of their organizations and become advocates for improved health care delivery, particularly for the elderly and children from communities of poverty.   The program graduated 99 Health Leadership Fellows in its first 3 cohorts, is currently operating its fourth cohort of 40 fellows and will soon launch a fifth cohort.  Collaboration is a hallmark of the program and an SNA can be particularly effective at creating a picture of the extent of collaboration in a network.

About a Social Network Analysis: A Social Network Analysis is a way of visually representing and measuring social relationships within a network.   According to June Holley in her book The Network Weaver Handbook, “Networks are sets of relationships and the patterns they create.  These patterns influence the quality of communication and the likelihood of collaboration and innovation.  Maps reveal the relationship patterns and their consequences.” 


How we went about the project:  LLC contracted with Ken Vance Borland, Executive Director of the Conservation Planning Institute because of his experience with SNA software and mapping.  He also understands the ‘so what’ of producing maps which is to help people in the network learn how to use the information provided in the maps to make their network stronger.  Together we developed a survey that went out to the first four cohorts. An advisory group of Health Leadership Fellows tested the survey, gave us feedback on the questions and helped mobilize other fellows from their cohort to complete the survey. 


The fellows taking the survey were provided the names of everyone taking the survey and asked to check names of other fellows with whom they had developed a new relationship, shared resources and information and collaborated with on health related projects.   In addition, survey respondents were asked a number of demographic questions about where they worked, their cohort, the issues they focused on in their work, and their professions.  These questions made it possible not only to produce maps of who was collaborating but to also see how people were connected across their regions or their cohorts.  To get good and reliable data from an SNA it’s important to have at least a 75% participation rate.  The Health Leadership Fellows program has a very impressive 89% response rate. 


Reading Network Maps:  

In the network maps below the colored dots are nodes that represent fellows.  As the key explains, the different colors tell you if they were fellows in cohorts 1, 2, 3, or 4.  Nodes can also be used to represent organizations or ideas.  The lines between the nodes are a link that connects the two fellows and in this case indicate that a beneficial relationship has developed between those fellows, eg. They are sharing information or collaborating.  You can see that fellows from the same cohort tend to be more closely connected, this is called a cluster.  There is however a good level of connectivity among the different cluster indicating that fellows form groups 2 and 3 are connecting to the other cohorts in their work.


The density of lines in the middle of the above map show a strong core of people who are connecting and communicating regularly.  There are also a number of nodes on the periphery of this core that indicate that these are fellows who may have connections with other networks and be able to bring new resources and ideas to the network.  From a network theory stand point this is a strong network.  From an evaluation standpoint the maps tells us that fellows from earlier cohorts are well connected and collaborating. 


Using Maps to Strengthen a Network:

The next two maps are particularly helpful for network weavers.  The Health Leadership Fellows program has an organization to help support the fellows’ network, the Fellows Action Network (FAN). The FAN can use these maps in a number of ways.  The nodes below indicate which fellow have a desire to initiate a new collaboration with a particular fellow in the future.  The names have been removed from this map for use in the newsletter article.   However, the original maps have the names attached to each mode.  As you look at this map and see that Joe would like to collaborative with Sally you can look for opportunities to make those introduction and support new collaborations.  For example, you might see on a map that Terry is already collaborating with both Joe and Sally and ask Terry to help make the introduction.  All of the fellows can look at these maps and find people who want to work with them.


Another way to help weave the network is to identify specific interests and skills set and fellows who share the same interest or are looking for those skill sets.  For example, in the maps below people who are interested in learning more about advocacy and policy work are indicated by green nodes and those who have policy skills and would be willing to teach others are indicated by blue nodes.  Below are four examples where this network is eager to learn and share skills to increase the capacity of network participants in a number of critical areas.


Would you like to participate in an SNA?   Ken Vance-Borland will be hosting a session at this year’s Creating Space.  All of the CS XI participants will receive a survey to complete that will name all of the participants.  During CS Ken will create maps that we can use to understand ourselves as a network and look for opportunities to increase our learning and collaboration.  We hope you can join the fun!