What is it? Every community is full of formal and informal connections. A network analysis sets out to find these connections and understand what they mean. These connections can be based around anything from being neighbors, being on a bowling team together, having children at the same schools and beyond. But each connection is different. Understanding these connections, as best we can, helps understand the flows of information and resources in a system, such as a city or town. Study results identify interrelationships and gaps between different groups or clusters, and enables new connections to be bridged. An analysis also examines the relative strength of different connections and the results may be used to help promote specific programs and spread change ideas. A social network analysis is a tool that may contribute to specialized knowledge and understanding of community relationships and flows.
How has it been used? In California, the South Santa Clara County Wraparound Project for Latino Children and Youth is a multiple partner, collaborative effort to improve services for youth and families suffering from substance abuse and mental illness in the South Santa Clara County area. Project leaders wanted to gauge how well, and in what ways, the various collaborators and service provides connected and worked together. Social network analysis was a central part of an evaluation process, that sought to measure improvement in the strength of connections among providers. The evaluation included meeting observations, document analysis, stakeholder feedback, community needs assessment, and other network data collection. The final report included visual maps, for non-technical audiences to easily see how members of a network were connected. The maps were also used to identify partners that operated most collaboratively, as well as those needing more encouragement to work together. (Source: The National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice)