Learn how network analysis can help cross-sector partners assess and build power in their communities.
Building community power is integral to advancing health and equity. Rather than a top-down approach led by elected officials or healthcare systems, funders and other changemakers are increasingly seeking to support change efforts at the community level, where networks of community members, nonprofits, community leaders and other cross-sector partners live and work in closer proximity to the very issues they are trying to solve. However, to assess community power and truly realize the potential of these networks, a more granular understanding of network members' dynamics, strengths, strategies, and connections is essential. One way we’re helping our partners achieve that is with network mapping and social network analysis.
For this blog post, we wanted to take a brief look at this strategy and what it can tell us about community power building and more.
What is Network Mapping?
Network mapping is simply a way of visualizing complex community relationships and dynamics, allowing us to look at power building efforts through an ecosystem lens. It’s a structured approach for mapping and understanding relationships between organizations and a way to look at groups of actors together as an ecosystem, rather than as disparate players.
1. Network Map Example
Network maps can include organizations from across the change continuum: those who are working for change, the philanthropic partners supporting their work, and the organizations and systems with the potential to drive that change forward. The idea is to organize this information in a way that illuminates linkages, strengths, and opportunities. Plus, with relationship mapping tools such as Kumu, it’s possible to create living maps that cross-sector partners can use to understand and grow connections while also looking at how they evolve over time.
Below is an image from one of CORE’s KUMU-generated network maps. To see a live and interactive (non-CORE) example, click here.
2. Kumu-generated network map from a CORE network analyses
What Can Network Mapping Tell Us?
While building community power is widely considered a key strategy for addressing health disparities and other inequities, there’s no broadly adopted way to measure it. In addition, cross-sector collaboratives have often struggled to effectively map and analyze their networks and power building efforts.
Network mapping can help address these challenges by bringing a more analytical approach to understanding community power and helping visualize how partners and funders can connect and collaborate to help achieve shared goals. For example, if an organization or funder is focused on addressing the homelessness crisis, they could use this approach to identify where additional funding may be needed, opportunities for collaboration, and existing strengths and competencies in the network that they might want to support rather than replicate.
Network Mapping at CORE
3. Assessing Network Connections & Strength
Here at CORE, we recently leveraged network mapping in combination with survey data to identify potentially influential organizations among groups working to improve community conditions in California. By looking at factors like number of connections, well-connected neighbors, diversity of connections, and shared connections, we identified specific organizations with the potential to play a key role in the power building effort. Note that we’ve removed identifying information in these images.
We used a similar methodology to assess power-building capacity at the network level, as shown below. An integral part of power building is racial equity; so as part of that analysis we also looked at the number of organizations in the network whose leadership predominantly identified as Black, Indigenous, or Communities of Color (BIPOC).
4. Evaluating Power-Building Capacity
While this is just one of many strategies used at CORE to help our partners measure, analyze, improve, and sustain their efforts, we see significant opportunities to use network mapping and analysis as part of other cross-sector power building work. To learn more about how this strategy might help your organization or collaborative, contact us!