Many networks (and especially funders of networks) dive into the process of generating network maps without much thought about how they will be used. The resulting maps too often end up never being seen or used by network participants. It’s really a shame as network maps are extremely powerful tools that can be used to weave very healthy and effective networks. However, network mapping needs to be combined with a strategy for engaging network participants in interpreting the maps and then developing strategies for connecting people in the network and drawing in new participants.
This slide deck is about a network – the Innovation Learning Network (a network of hospital systems across the U.S.) – that implemented a highly effective strategy to use their maps.
Several aspects of their strategy that are worth emulating:
1. The network had hired two network weavers but those network weavers did not take on the mapping and weaving job alone. They recruited about 25 network participants who were interested in learning more about network weaving to implement their weaving strategy.
2. The entire group spent time reading and analyzing the network maps and then, based on that analysis, generating a set of activities that would help the network become a healthy and effective self-organizing network.
3. In addition to the network weavers connecting people, they set up a set of network activities that would enable network participants to get to know more people in the network, add new people to the network, and help people find others interested in the same topic or action areas.
4. They found that the most powerful strategy for improving their network was to support self-organizing: helping people find others interested in a particular exploration or action not only resulted in people in that project getting to know each other quite deeply but also showed them the power of self-organizing. As a result, many many new initiatives were generated over the years that took little staff time to coordinate and yet changed the face of the healthcare industry.
5. ILN remapped their network several times to notice progress and to see areas where they needed to focus their network weaving.
6. They gathered information about the effectiveness of this network enhancing strategy.
What questions do you have about this strategy? How might you adopt and adapt the ideas presented in this case study. Feel free to share this slide deck with your local network or your funders.
Finally, I’d love to hear about ways that you used your network maps. Please share with us in the comments section below.
featured image found here
June Holley has been weaving networks, helping others weave networks and writing about networks for over 40 years. She is currently increasing her capacity to capture learning and innovations from the field and sharing what she discovers through blog posts, occasional virtual sessions and a forthcoming book.
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6 thoughts on “Map Analysis & Weaving”
This is super Katy! I’ll try to put your ideas together with Paul’s for a resource we can add to the Resources section on mapping!
Good idea, June. Shall I make a slide deck as a first draft and then send it to you? If Katy is willing to co-create, then you can share the draft version with her, too.
Thank you for sharing this good practice, June!
A question that I have is how the Network Catalysts succeeded in staying clear from the “folded arms syndrome” (a term coined by Curtis Ogden). How did they manage to stay away from the pattern that the other network participants expected only the catalysts to initiate new actions?
I totally recognize the situation that participants discover that the ultimate stakeholder is missing from the network. I like this reflection: “But perhaps the most important outcome is that these hospitals now know how to initiate really diverse groups to solve problems.” (notes slide 13). To me, this makes the difference between regular networks and learning networks.
In my own teaching and consulting practice, I use network maps in 3 ways:
 pre-produced maps that illustrate various network topologies (e.g. multi-hub and hub-and-spoke). Great examples are to be found on the network weaver website. I use these graphs to get people to think about what their own network might look like, and what that means for future roles and actions. You could say that these maps are conversation starters.
 Concept maps, e.g. stakeholder networks. These maps are not primarily meant to describe the situation accurately, but serve the purpose of making people visualize their knowledge and perspective of the situation and who’s involved. It is the mapping process that is the most important here: the process of visualizing serves as a means for structured dialogue, either internally (within an individual) or within a group.
The process is more important than the actual outcome, so it doesn’t really matter how people do the mapping. They might turn to mapping software, but old school sticky notes and flip charts will do just as well.
 Co-created maps, meant to depict the situation as realistic as possible. The case study depicted here seems to be an example of this type. Making the maps digitally is important here, because that will allow you to extract network statistics.
Thanks so much for sharing these great examples of mapping processes! I wonder if you would be willing to write just a bit more about each and we will include as an additional resource in our mapping resource section?
Also, I think the network weavers in the ILN situation didn’t put themselves out their as staff but that they were doing what everyone in the network could be doing. They weren’t paid a stipend which helped them act more as just ordinary network participants. I do think this requires constant framing of network weaving as something everyone needs to do.
Thank you for sharing this inspiring story and slide deck! These strategies also resonate with my experiences. Other strategies I’ve found helpful include:
– surveying the network before initiating mapping to understand what they want to know about each other and aspire to do together. Integrate these questions into the map survey.
– explicitly design for 2 audiences: network members and the backbone (or network weavers). These groups often have different needs.
– ask a question about leading edge questions the members want to explore with each other.
– build containers for emerging themes, i.e., look for patterns of what network members want to explore or learn together and host exploratory calls around these themes. This also works well with asks/offers – you can host a skill building call and invite those who have the skill to share and those wanting the skill to ask questions. This is a great ‘low hanging fruit’ way to weave learning & innovation together.
– build reference to the map in everything you do to spark network members’ map muscles. You can include snapshots in outreach, screen share a profile from the map to introduce speakers in a workshop, share via social media… use every way possible to socialize the map, get people comfortable using it, and remembering that it exists as a powerful tool.
Here’s an example of one map we’ve used successfully in building a global network, with some more detail about how members can use it, which might spark some other ideas for folks: https://www.socialgastronomy.org/map
Thank you for sharing Katy! I really like your way of phrasing: “sparking your network map muscles”.
We could merge both our experiences into a slide deck, to co-create a resource on the Nw website.
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