So this is a continuation of the social network analysis and organizational network analysis series I posted yesterday. This time we’ll talk about the general applications of SNA/ONA. And yes, we’ll stay with the basics for now. I plan on writing up some more advanced lessons later.
In this post we’ll talk about the uses of SNA/ONA. Feel free to refer to the fundamentals of SNA/ONA article to get you started on the very basic concepts before reading this one.
So, in short, organizational network analysis (we’ll use ONA and SNA interchangeably) has been used for many different applications. One particular article I read a while ago concentrates on the uses of social network analysis for political and electoral reasons. In this example, analysis was conducted on government and legislative networks while a record of the votes was kept and translated into visual representations of congressional representatives’ relationship (see Tam, Cho & Fowler, 2010 for the details of this study).
Organizational Network Analysis in the Research
Here’s how Tam et al. explain their research. They argue that they “…do not purport that co-sponsorship defines the social relationships in Congress, but is merely one facet of the social fabric of Congress, and one that is important for legislation. If co-sponsorship indicates either a working relationship or the degree to which legislators have a history of working together, then we expect greater interconnectivity in co-sponsorship to signal an increase in cooperation which may lead to increased productivity by the Congress as a whole. It is clear that it is difficult for any single member of Congress to construct landmark legislation in isolation. Both crafting legislation and passing legislation are aided by the help of others. A Congress where the members did not interact would plainly behave differently and have a different impact than one in which collaboration and co-sponsorship were commonplace.” (Tam, Cho & Fowler, 2010).
Basically, they’re saying that although who sponsors, authors, or puts their name with another member of congress on a bill, doesn’t necessarily describe the absolute relationship between them—which is true of course. But it is a good approximation for relative political alliances, and is a big contribution to the overall picture.
This is a good example, and has been repeated quite often for corporate board membership links. There’s a lot of stuff on that now. And a simple search will find several if not many articles that measure links between political entities and board governors.
What’s interesting about this particular use is that organizations are sometimes built up on a series of political events, requiring a deep analysis between individuals as well as their communication to understand fully. In other words it’s essentially all the same.
For example on many occasions you will find coworkers collaborating on a particular project with a specific end deliverable such as a presentation or written report with some kind of recommendations on some issue. In the same way that one would track political discourse, through the collection and analysis of collaborative materials such as bills and laws co-written by two or more individual congressional members, one can also assess organizational structure, cohesiveness, communication and other relevant network metrics in order to determine relationships between individuals in the private sector.
The challenge in the private sector is almost always data collection/access to data. These days, it’s much easier to collect such data because of the electronic methods we utilize to do our work.
You can say that SNA and ONA never really took off until the electronic age really. IT has become a powerful enabling force in this discipline. IT really has become the tip of the spear in situations of data collection, and data mining to help ensure that the most accurate data is being collected for analysis. The internet, with search engines such as Google, acts as an abundant line of information for which to use and to analyze human behavior in the context of social relations.
In the private firm’s context organizational network analysis is used for improving business processes, culture, productivity, efficiency, and general management. What makes our job easier in the private sector, so to speak, is that organizations mine their internal communication nervous system as well as track organizational activity in order to create continuous improvement as well as assess their own successes and failures—the data is almost always already available.
And, although the analysis of deliverables between individuals, such as reports, presentations, and projects, can yield some insight into the relational dynamics of individuals in an organization, a more accurate assessment can be achieved by either surveying the individuals themselves, or using information technology to track their behavior. More often than not, if I perceive that we have a positive friend relationship—we do.
The key takeaway here is fairly simple. Behavior-based perspectives are increasingly powerful, because of the failure of the trait-based social perspectives that commonly carry with them no real or practical way to measure a lot of important things. The political example I gave before tries to illustrate that. Yes behavior, social structures are not necessarily everything, but they are a powerful force if you want to gain deeper insights of the collective action of networks.