Using bottle caps as part of NetMap toolbox

Using bottle caps as part of NetMap toolbox

When an organization analyzes its social network, what can it learn, and what risks does it take? IFAD staff from two different projects shared their stories about how social network analysis revealed who is in a network, how knowledge flows, and also uncover power dynamics amongst actors. The process can help practitioners design initiatives for better knowledge sharing, analysis need to be aware of the way the process can distort responses and raise tension or sensitivities amongst participants.

Facilitator Lucie Lamoureux guided participants through an After Action Review of their network mapping activities, to help them share the lessons they learned during their network analyses. Chase Palmieri discussed how an analysis of the IFAD Asia-Pacific network revealed a number of connections and activities that the network facilitators had not been aware of, such as new working relationships. The network managers at IFAD will use this information to help participants work together more and learn about each others’ expertise.

In Ghana and Mali, IFAD used Net Map ( to map power asymmetries in pro-poor rural water. Moses Abukari and Rudolph Cleveringa shared how the participatory tool helped reveal social structures and hierarchies in a community, which can inform decisions about who to involve in a project and what strategies to engage them. Moses and Rudolph described how a local facilitator worked with community members to learn about the power dynamics between actors in a community, using bottle caps to represent the level of power (a chief is represented by 7 caps while a farmer may only have 2). The exercised also helped communities learn about their own power structures and distribution of decisionmaking. Multiple actors were revealed including absent stakeholders.

What are the Risks?

Both case studies found that there are some risks inherent in social network mapping exercises. Often, the process can influence the results, and so careful thought needs to be given to the type of people involved in the exercise and the type of questions asked. For example, having the village chief present can influence peoples answers. As well the tool can reveal personal weaknesses amongst network actors, and therefore distort the responses. People may not always want to reveal that they are irregular or absent participants in a social network when the results are not anonymous or their boss can see the data. The exercise can also stir up emotions related to belonging and feelings of inferiority, and so these implications need to be taken into account.

Lastly there were questions about how the results of these exercises were being s.fed back into the project and the communities in question, and how to best take this information into account for improved knowledge sharing initiatives. Overall, it challenges us to think about how we value and verify social capital and power relations in development programs.

Vanessa Meadu
Communications Office
WorldAgroforestry Center, Nairobi