Techniques and Tools: How To Visualize Your Network | Beth's Blog

Techniques and Tools: How To Visualize Your Network

Networked Nonprofit, Professional Networking


Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the CATechFest in LA designed and expertly facilitated by Aspiration.   What I really enjoy about events that Aspiration convenes is that they  allow the time and depth for practitioners to share knowledge and strengthen connections.      The participants are the content – and the design of getting participants into small group discussions where we can discuss topics related to our work that we are passionate about and want to explore and learn.    These discussions are not lectures or traditional panels and are participant driven.

Ari Sahagun, a consultant who works with social justice groups on network visualizations, called for a group to discuss Network Mapping and Visualization.  We had a wide ranging conversations about how to apply network mapping and visualization and debated about its use as a measurement technique vs strategy tool.  The notes are here.  Here’s some additional thoughts sparked by our conversation after reflecting on various blog posts I’ve written and others.

There are two different lens to think about network mapping.   You can do a whole network analysis.   The map can be of social media conversations, for example these network maps of Twitter conversations.   Or they can be maps of networks of organizations and communities.  For example, the Irvine New Leadership Network project that has used network mapping for two purposes: 1) evaluation 2) direct network engagement.  The examples are described in detail on the project blog, but thinking about the map as a tool to consider who to connect and engage with can be applied to a professional network, the second lens – and the focus of this blog post.

Why Visualize Your Professional Network?

This is when you create a map of  your professional network  to better understand connections and their diversity that can enhance or support your professional work and learning.  Mapping can be done with low tech tools (sticky notes and markers) or you can use simple tools to map your own network on social media platforms or software that helps you illustrate it.  Using the analysis steps below, it can help you be more intentional with online networking, learning, and building thought leadership.

One example I discovered is from Andy Carvin.  He did an analysis of his Facebook friends to explore the connections that consist among them. As he notes, the analysis can be helpful to him as a journalist and content curator to identify potential sources online.  He started with a simple tool call Netviz that analyzed how his friends were connect. He then pulled the data into an open source network analysis software called Gephi which produced a network map that he reviewed to help guide engagement and source discovery.

There are even simpler technology tools to use to map your professional network. For example,  LinkedIn Inmaps will automatically create a color coded map of your network. You can spend time adding labels to specific clusters of your network to help with your analysis as I did.   The most powerful feature of the map is that allows you peer into your online social network, notice connections, and to remind yourself of people you know but may not of thought about in years.   Some questions to ask:

  • What patterns do you see?
  • What surprises you?
  • What might you do differently with your network to reach goals?

Here’s some techniques where you can incorporate network visualization to help you be intentional about using your professional network for learning:

1.  Think about  your current work

Brainstorm a list of the content areas and tasks in your current job.     What is it that you need to know or be able to do as part of your job?

2.   Reflect on the diversity of your network

Harold Jarche, a thought leader in networked leadership,  suggests you also reflect on this question:   Who are the people with you have most frequently communicated with in order to get your work done?  List them and do an analysis based on:

  • Age
  • Organization
  • Gender
  • Hierarchical Position
  • Area of Expertise
  • Geographic Location

Then ask yourself:  Is your professional learning network diverse enough?  Diversity correlates with innovation?  Are you getting new ideas from your network?  If you find Twitter or LinkedIn boring, perhaps you are following wrong people.    It is time to tune your network.

3.  Use network engagement techniques to support your learning or goals

June Holley,  an expert in networks and defines some of these techniques and summarized below.

Close Triangles: This is the practice of introducing people in your network to one another.   You need to let them know why you are making the introduction and this can be done online or offline.

Work Transparently: The more public you are, the easier you can be found, the more opportunities you have.  Of course, everything doesn’t have to be public, but not everything needs to be closed.    One small step towards transparency is letting go of information (that isn’t confidential).    Don’t wait for people to ask – share it through social networks.  But whatever you share should be value, not mindless sharing.

Convene: This is bringing together small groups of stakeholders to give you input and feedback – from designing programs to planning.  These can be done offline and online.

Engage New Perspectives: We tend to stay in our comfort zones and don’t engage different perspectives — learning from adjacent practices can be useful.

Ask Questions of the network and experts: Social network tools make it very easy to ask questions to individuals and groups of individuals  – from posting a question on your Facebook Status, LinkedIn Q/A, or Twitter, you can informally and quickly get answers.    You can also identify experts in your network on specific topics and ask them questions to help your learning or open the way to other sources.  Other times you will follow the community or network conversation on a topic.    Harold Jarche describes this as “knowledge filters.”

Share Learning: To share learning, you have to intentionally hit the pause button and reflect.  One way to incorporate this technique into your day is to set aside five minutes at the end of the day for reflection.

4.    Where are the gaps?

Looking at the items in 1 and 2, think about the gaps.  Where are you falling short?      What are other ways you can leverage your network for your work and learning?  Steve Waddell, talks about the value of mapping networks for systemic change, maps are most useful as tools to generate discussion about “what is”, “what can be” and “what needs to change”.    Looking at your network map while thinking of gaps can be an insightful step.

You can draw from an analysis of your network on social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.    You can use sticky notes and markers.   And you can combine these techniques into map using software like,  a visualization platform for mapping systems and better understanding  relationships.  It can help you create a network map, although it does do the analysis – you have the supply that.

Do you think strategically about your professional network to support learning and your work?   I believe this is an important work place skill.  Do you?

16 Responses

  1. […] Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the CATechFest in LA designed and expertly facilitated by Aspiration. What I really enjoy  […]

  2. Jamie Billingham says:

    Great post Beth!

    I’m a huge fan of social network analysis (SNA) and have used that process on an organizational as well as personal level for years.

    Non-profits can use network maps to see who they are connected to and where they can foster more connections (closing the triangles with HT to Tribal Leadership and Dave Logan). This can look a lot like asset mapping but focuses more on connections than internal resources. It also help the organization to learn about itself in the same way individual maps can help individual learn and grow.

    I use Popplet and Mindmeister for simple connection mapping and analysis.

    Thanks for the extra resources and links!

  3. Beth says:

    Jamie: Have you shared any of your maps or written about it? would love to see it ..

  4. […] Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the CATechFest in LA designed and expertly facilitated by Aspiration. What I really enjoy (@kanter's post on network mapping today is even more helpful than usual!  […]

  5. […] Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the CATechFest in LA designed and expertly facilitated by Aspiration. What I really enjoy  […]

  6. Jamie Billingham says:

    I only still have access to a few . This is a really basic one in popplet It’s shows the relationships in our company – who connects to who, most often. We did it instead of a traditional org chart. I’m re-doing it using now that you have introduced me to it 🙂 We have doubled in size so it will be really interesting to see what the new shape of the org is.

    When we did the original popplet I used the mobile app on my iPad at a company meeting and had each person place themselves where they believed they were in relation to others. At that time we were all working from our homes and spread across the province with some folks out of county so seeing how and who was connected to who was interesting.

    Other mapping exercises that I have done in past couple of years were mostly done on very large pieces of paper. I work with a number of First Nations communities and mapping out things like health services providers and how each individual nurse, doctor or health worker was connected to other health or health related service is always worthwhile and always surfaces gaps in relationships that affect care. Once gaps are literally seen it’s easier to close them by closing the triangles.

    I have also done versions of this with clients in recovery as a way to map out their support network. There’s something powerful in drawing out to how close of far away people are emotionally and how genuinely supportive they are.

    Wouldn’t it so amazingly cool to be able to virtually walk through a 3D version of a network using .. I dunno Google glass or some other form of immersive virtual reality game system. What a perspective that would provide, especially for the more complex networks.

  7. […] “ Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the CATechFest in LA designed and expertly facilitated by Aspiration. What I really enjoy”  […]

  8. Great stuff Beth! Few realize that visualizing is the great secret to success. We see our network, and then fill in those gaps you’ve mentioned to really rock it out. Wonderful post delving into one of our most unique powers. See it, be it, plan it, achieve it.

    I found this on kingged(dot)com and voted it up!

  9. […] Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the CATechFest in LA designed and expertly facilitated by Aspiration.  […]

  10. June Holley says:

    So delightful how many useful and beautiful things you have brought together here! I personally find that visualizations of networks really help people re-wrie their brains to think and act in a more relationship way.

    I’m so glad you pointed out that maps are most valuable when they are used to help the network become more healthy, diverse, and inclusive. For more see Network Weaver Handbook

  11. […] learn.    These discussions are not lectures or traditional panels and are participant driven. Read full article Read […]

  12. Great post! Social Network Analysis indeed can help you diversify connections and can help in online learning and get more exposure. Any good tools for this ?

  13. […] : still noodling on network maps and analysis and learning at work Do you think strategically about your professional network to support learning and your work? I […]

  14. […] By: Friday’s Finds 217 by Friday’s Finds 217 […]

  15. […] Great post! Social Network Analysis indeed can help you … by Pratik Parakh […]