237808 Overview of Social Network Analysis

Saturday, October 29, 2011: 1:45 PM

Danielle Varda, PhD , Assistant Professor, School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver and Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO
While engaging in partnerships with multiple community systems is intrinsic to improving a public health system, the process by which public health departments have engaged partners in PHCs to address the multiple influences of these systems has varied, with few ways to measure the success of these partnerships. Public health leaders are eager to understand how to analyze the collaboratives in which they are involved so that they may determine whether efforts to focus resources on partnership or collaborative development are working. For example, a key question concerns how to assess the quality and value of convening many partners together to form a public health collaborative. It is important to understand how PHCs are linked to health outcomes, how public health departments (HDs) can maximize resources to develop these collaboratives, how networks are used to build public health constituencies, and how they can remain accountable to their funders and stakeholders. A deeper understanding of how to assess the strength of a collaborative, what motivates and moves constituents to action on public health issues, and benefits from particular relationships in a collaborative is required.

Efforts to evaluate PHCs to date includes several existing frameworks and tools, each offering a broad-based assessment of partnerships and the benefits by asking questions about activities within the collaborative at an aggregate level (e.g., Do partnerships exist in the community to assure coordination of public health activities?). However, they do not delineate between specific interorganizational interactions and the individual contributions of each organization. These assessment questions fall short of providing the types of data that can inform dimensions of connectivity. Thus, it may be difficult for organizations to identify agencies that are not well connected to the overall system, target those that are viewed as critical to the success of the network, or identify ways to improve overall trust and resource exchange.

In this skills session, we use network theory and Social Network Analysis to outline the core dimensions of connectivity used to measure progress in public health collaboratives (PHCs). Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a tool used to gather and analyze data to explain the degree to which network actors connect to one another and the structural makeup of collaborative relationship. SNA collects data on who is connected to whom and how those connections vary and change under specified circumstances. Wasserman and Faust explain that “the focus on relations, and the patterns of relations, requires a set of methods and analytic concepts that are distinct from the methods of traditional statistics and data analysis…The social network perspective encompasses theories, models, and applications that are expressed in terms of relational concepts or processes.” The SNA approach is summed up by Wasserman and Faust: “many researchers have realized that the network perspective allows new leverage for answering standard social and behavioral science research questions by giving precise formal definition to aspects of the political, economic, or social structure environment”. This method transcends theoretical applications and has become widely used by practitioners (particularly to strategize, understand, and influence organizational capacity), for example corporations like IBM regularly use SNA to evaluate employee interaction, company embeddedness, and resource utilization)

This research methodology can be applied to a variety of social inquiries in a number of ways, and while its utilization and popularity has increased in a variety of fields, the public health sector has yet to reap the full potential of the method (little research in the field using this method and little practical application by public health agencies, most likely due to a lack of resources to hire social network analysts). This course will fill this gap by providing the necessary foundation and an introduction to a free SNA tool that public health practitioners and researchers may use to implement SNA evaluations in their agencies.

This workshop will provide an introduction to the methodology, key concepts, software, and examples of how both practitioners and academics can apply SNA to their work. Topics covered will include:

The application of SNA to organizational and community capacity assessments, for example, the technique and benefits of network weaving

A brief data collection exercise

Simple network analytic concepts: centrality, key players, information flow, visualizations

Learning Areas:
Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Social and behavioral sciences
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Demonstrate the development of foundational conceptual and analytic skills in social network analysis methods as a tool to evaluate public health partnerships. Formulate questions relevant to evaluating local public health collaborations using a social network analysis approach. Identify resources and tools for implementing the quality improvement techniques of Strategic Collaborative Management (SCM).

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to be planning, coordinating or organizing this Learning Session because I have had experience in planning, coordination and organizing continuing educational activities for multiple disciplines. I have developed multiple training sessions on social network analysis and am the author of the PARTNER (Program to Analyze, Record, and Track Networks to Enhance Relationships), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.