Social Network Analysis

Published – 22 August 2016

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a method used to develop an understanding of people’s relationships, and how they may be supported to become more effective.  It is also useful for understanding processes of social influence and patterns of diffusion across systems of “actors” (people, businesses and organisations, who have different characteristics). In most cases, the results of any network analytic study can be viewed as an underlying structure for the transfer of anything through the system of actors. It recognises that network relationships can develop through good luck as well as more strategically. 

Network theory, (SNA is a method for applying network theory), developed in a number of fields, including behavioural psychology, organisational management and ecology. It is also used in sociology.

SNA is a methodology for understanding the structure of relationships within groups, communities and organisations. Formal and informal relationships are shown in social network diagrams (Sociograms) as lines between nodes, or dots, that represent individuals and/or organisations through which resources, both tangible and intangible, are shared.

Software is available to conduct SNA. There is an example here (free 90-day trial). Others are discussed and can be linked to from here

SNA converts quantitative data into the sociograms through mathematical formulas using modelling software – such as ‘Pajek’ (de Nooy et al. 2005) or UCINET – to indicate a number of network features. Examples include:
•    a general social network structure,
•    the number of connections individual have and with which people,
•    the strength of those connections,
•    the density of those connections, and
•    the direction of the relationship (i.e. unidirectional or bidirectional).

The combination of quantitative (structural) and qualitative (relational dynamic) assessment allows for an exploration of how social connections effect information accessibility, knowledge generation and communication – an area where there is generally limited understanding.

Social network studies often seek to uncover the patterns of interaction between and among participants or entities in a system, determine the conditions under which those patterns arise, or attempt to identify the consequences of the structural patterns.  Social network approaches also allow researchers to investigate several different attributes of relational ties between members of systems. Therefore, instead of simply considering whether or not a tie is present, a researcher can examine additional implications.

SNA is a complex method that requires access to expertise in SNA data management, software use and analysis or a willingness by interested parties to undergo professional development, which can become a resourcing issue for project teams and organisations.

To see Dr Ken Riopelle of Galaxy Advisors explain the basics on “Social Network Analysis” click on this link for his YouTube video, published on July 30th 2012.

Content sources and further information (Free trial for 90 days)

Borgatti, S.P., Everett, M.G. and Freeman, L.C. 2002. Ucinet for Windows: Software for Social Network Analysis. Harvard, MA: Analytic Technologies

Quatman, C. and Chelladurai, P. (2008) Social Network Theory and Analysis: A Complementary Lens for Inquiry.  Journal of Sport Management Vol.22:338-360

Wouter De Nooy, Andrej Mrvar, and Vladimir Batagelj. (2011) Exploratory Social Network Analysis with Pajek. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA