Net-Map is a visualization and facilitation tool developed by Eva Schiffer that can be very useful for design processes for/with Community/Locality Systems and networks.










Net-Map is an interview-based mapping tool that helps people understand, visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which many different actors influence outcomes. By creating Influence Network Maps, individuals and groups can clarify their own view of a situation, foster discussion, and develop a strategic approach to their networking activities. More specifically, Net-Map helps players to determine what actors are involved in a given network,

  • how they are linked,
  • how influential they are, and
  • what their goals are.

Determining linkages, levels of influence, and goals allows users to be more strategic about how they act in these complex situations. It helps users to answer questions such as: Do you need to strengthen the links to an influential potential supporter (high influence, same goals)? Do you have to be aware of an influential actor who doesn’t share your goals? Can increased networking help empower your dis-empowered beneficiaries?

Basically, Net-Map is low-tech tool for developing social network analysis within communities. It is a tool that:

  • satisfies both, research interest and immediate stakeholder needs;
  • is low-tech, low-cost, intuitive, inter-culturally applicable
  • connects to existing research tools and methods
  • makes implicit knowledge explicit
  • structures complex governance reality
  • is flexible for use in different contexts.

This tool can help improve the understanding of any situation in which a number of people, groups, and organizations interact to achieve common or conflicting goals. Such situations can include preparing and monitoring policy interventions, improving and coordinating multistakeholder governance, facilitatinginclusive community-based projects, sketching and discussing hands-on interventions for project teams, and understanding and strategically improving personal influence networks.
The concept of social network analysis is not new, and several computer programs are available for the purpose of analyzing the data collected.
However, most approaches to collecting and analyzing network data are abstract and require high technical capacity. Before the Net-Map toolbox, it was difficult for actors at the grassroots and policymaking levels to utilize social network analysis to improve their work. The Net-Map toolbox builds and expands on previous approaches to participatory social network analysis to allow anyone, regardless of their level of literacy or education, to better understand and communicate how they or their group are connected to others and to identify more effective ways of collaborating with partners to achieve mutual goals.

The network mapping approach is particularly important for finding common ground on highly contentious issues, such as competing access to prized natural resources.
Net-Map can help users understand the flows of knowledge and the formal and informal ways in which policy decisions are made.









02. The Net-Map process

Here is the equipment needed:

  • large sheets of paper for network map(one per interview, at least A3, better A2);
  • felt pens for drawing links(different colors according to different links);
  • adhesive paper as actor cards(“post-it” possibly different colors for different kinds of actors);
  • flat round stackable discs for building influence-towers (e.g. checker’s pieces, bicycle spare parts)
  • actor figurines (different board game figures, optional but especially useful when working with illiterate interviewees);

And here is the process:

  1. Preparation
    Organizing the interview process through defining: 

    • issues to tackle;
    • the questions and data to ask;
    • which kind of links to study (one but subdivided or more, but not more than 5);
    • who should be involved in interviews / discussion.
  2. Pre-testing
    Discuss the overarching issue you wish to examine, the defined links, and the goals with someone who is knowledgeable about the social environment you want to research
  3. Setting up the interview
    Decide who you need to interview, where, for how long (1-2 hours per person or more for large groups), how to record data while interviewing and facilitating the process, prepare the toolbox
  4. Interview
    1. Question 1: Who is involved?
      • Ask: “Who is involved in this process?”Write names on actor cards (with different colors of cards for different groups of actors) and distribute on empty Net-Map sheet.
    2. Question 2: How are they linked?
      • Ask: “Who is linked to whom?” Go through the different kinds of links one by one (e.g. “Who gives money to whom? Who disturbs whom?”).
      • Draw arrows between actor cards according to interviewees directions.
      • If two actors exchange something draw double headed arrows.
      • If actors exchange more than one thing, add differently colored arrow heads to existing links.
    3. Question 3: How influential are they?
      • Ask: “How strongly can actors influence xy (our complex issue)?”
      • Explain / agree on a definition of influence with your interviewee, clarify that this is about influence on xy and not influence in the world at large.
      • Ask interviewee to assign influence towers to actors: The higher the influence on the issue at stake, the higher the tower. Towers of different actors can be of the same height. Actors with no influence can be put on ground level. Towers can be as high as interviewees want.
      • Place influence towers next to actor cards.
      • Verbalize set-up and give interviewee the chance to adjust towers before noting height of tower on the Net-Map (important for documentation purpose).
    4. Question 4: What are their goals?
      • Ask according to pre-defined goals, actor by actor, e.g. “Does this actor support environmental, developmental goals or both?”
      • Note abbreviations for goals next to actor cards, allow for multiple goals where appropriate, by noting more than one goal next to the actor.
    5. Discussion
      Discuss the result with your interview partners. Depending on the goal of this specificmapping process, you might ask your interviewees to think strategically about thenetwork and develop ideas to improve the situation in the future.
    6. Post-production
      In order to fully understand the map and analyze it further, transform the map into a matrix and load it into a social network analysis software.









03. The importance of Net-Map for Open Peer-to-Peer Design

Net-Map is a very useful tool when developing a project with/for a community (or, better, a Community/Locality System), and to some extent shares something with Open Space Technology (participative, low-tech and collaborative) and could be used within.
There are three main reason we should use it within the Open P2P Design methodology:

    1. it is a tool for the analysis a social network (a community) in an easy way without reducing its complexity; it is a simpler social network analysis that can be learnt and put to practice easily and without much resources;
    2. it is a tool that describes both the interview process and the preparation process of the interview; it describes therefore the analysis process and its metadesign process;
    3. it is a low-tech and low-cost tool that can be used when working with rural community members with low formal education as well as with higher education.

Here’s a quote that’s very interesting for the Open P2P Design methodology:

Facilitating Inclusive Community-Based Projects
You work for a community-based conservation and development project that requires you to understand and integrate the needs and interests of different local and external groups. You want to make sure that everyone is included: rich and poor farmers, livestock owners, men and women, traditional authorities, government representatives, and nongovernmental organizations. You want to promote a better understanding between the different groups and develop a project plan that is inclusive and acceptable to everyone in the community, not just the local elites. Furthermore, you want to convince your donors that you have gone through an appropriate procedure to developand implement this plan.
You use Net-Map to draw maps with representatives from all of the different groups. At a common meeting, all the participants can use these maps to explain to each other how they see the local situation, who is linked to whom, who they see as influential, andwhat goals they will pursue. They will discover that people with different positions in society see the world differently.
Visualizing networks, power, and goals makes it easier for everyone to discuss them. The concepts and visualization used in Net-Map are rather intuitive and easy to understand—even for community members with low or no schooling, thus allowing disadvantaged community members to document and express their views just as well as the other groups. And even though the goal will not necessarily be to agree on a common map, exchanging different views can help everyone involved to work on a solution that takes all the views into account. Repeated influence network mapping throughout the process will indicate whether you are on the path to reaching your goal.










You can find more photos of Net-Map in use here and case studies report here.