Network mapping

Method

Network mapping is a way of investigating how identified stakeholders are connected or why and when they interact with each other. The goal of network mapping is not to describe the features of each individual stakeholder, but to document their relationships with each other. It can demonstrate how the presence of one stakeholder influences or informs the actions of others and vice versa. It can also identify existing communication channels, including channels that require strengthening to maximise collaboration.  

Before network mapping can begin, appropriate stakeholder identification must be performed, where all key people who are relevant to the project are documented. Next, clarify the aim of the network mapping you are planning to do: what types of relationships are you particularly interested in? What communication channels would be useful to your project? 

There are two approaches towards performing network mapping:

Approach 1: Formal network mapping, where information is collected from each stakeholder involved using a survey or through an interview

  1. Develop a survey tool or interview guide that collects information to answer your identified aims. Consider collecting additional data regarding each stakeholders position, their involvement in existing teams or projects and their level of knowledge on the topic of your project  
  2. Survey or interview all identified stakeholders 
  3. Map the outcomes of the data collection. Computational software is generally required to perform mapping, especially if a large amount of data is collected from many people 

Approach 2: Informal face-to-face network mapping, where stakeholders map their own relationships with each other by hand: 

  1. Bring all stakeholders together in a workshop-like scenario. Make large sheets of paper and post-it notes available.  
  2. Ask each stakeholder to write their name on a post-it note, attach it to the paper, then use markers to draw connective lines between their name and the names of other stakeholders present in the room, symbolising existing relationships.  
  3. Arrows can be used to designate dependant relationships. Different coloured markers can be used to mark different types of relationships.  

When reviewing the outcomes of the network mapping, it is important to consider: 

  • Who are the most well-connected stakeholders? Why? How can you access their communication channels? 
  • Who is not well connected? Why? This could signify untapped potential. How can these stakeholders be better incorporated into the network, to improve its effectiveness? 
  • Are there groups of stakeholders who only work amongst themselves? How can they be connected to the broader network?  

Advantages

  • Document relationships within and between organisations, government departments and other agencies.
  • Highlight central players in the area of the topic of your project, and demonstrate who they interact with and why.
  • Can be used to highlight informal, yet important, relationships.
  • Can identify stakeholders who generally work siloed. This can be used as an opportunity to introduce them to other relevant stakeholders, improving communication channels.
  • Outcomes can guide approaches taken to developing the project communication plan. 

Disadvantages  

  • Time consuming when a large number of stakeholders is involved.
  • Stakeholders may not view their relationships from the same perspective.
  • Network mapping for a complex project will most likely require formal training or past experience.
  • Computational software will likely be required for formal network mapping, which may cost money. 

Context  

It is appropriate to perform network mapping before starting any study or project, no matter how simple. Network mapping is a continuous process and must be repeated regularly throughout the duration of your study or project in order to be effective. 

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