Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

Social capital measures in dynamic social networks?

Posted in social network analysis by Bas Reus on August 22, 2012

I’ve been reading literature about social network analysis (SNA) lately for my research. A lot is written about SNA. About analyzing, about measures, about SNA in organizations, and many more. However, many research does not address the value of the potential (or past) changes in the network, it especially addresses the value (social capital) of a snapshot of the network, the value of the existing social ties. Think about measures like density, distance, centrality, bridges, structural holes and weak ties, or, more qualitatively, trust, norms, power and autonomy.

In my view, it is not complete to study social networks as static. They were formed sometime before the analysis, there are reasons it became that way. It’s a bit like the universe, it changes continuously with changing nodes, relations and meaning of the relationships between nodes. Analysis of a network is always a snapshot in time. How the network will or can evolve is at least as interesting and important, because that will determine a snapshot at a later moment. The (social) reality that we live in now, is determined by the earlier realities, and the current reality will influence the possible future realities. Therefore we cannot deny the dynamic nature of a social network.

Now, can we determine the possible future directions of a network, for example in organizations? Can we identify what determined the current state of a social network? With the advance of online communities, and the vast amount of recorded data of relations and communication between people, perhaps we can. What network characteristics in the past influences the current network as it is? We can look at new entrants (nodes) which brings new opportunities, new knowledge, new relations over time. We can also look at nodes that disappeared (left the company) or changed position (got promoted). We can look at changing goals of individuals, departments or the company, and we can look at changing outside conditions (legislation, competitors, drastic events). There are many more things we can look at.

Not everything that we can identify in a social network snapshot is because of chance or fate. We probably can point to events in history that influenced the current state of the network. People made changes in their network themselves, or outside events triggered changes. Events can also be gradual, like the growing of a particular group within a network, that caused some change elsewhere in the network, which is an important asset in the current state.

So I’m thinking about looking for social capital measures in dynamic social networks, in the context of organizations, by comparing multiple snapshots in the past. It can hopefully be used to explain how networks work, and how they can evolve by making possible scenario’s, and what is needed to go for a preferred scenario. Do you think this would be interesting?

6 Responses

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  1. Jim Stone said, on August 22, 2012 at 13:44

    This makes me think of the comparison of a weather snapshot and weather video that shows the movement of the “snapshots” over time. If you can visualize the key values of the network over time you can use your brain to extrapolate future values (ie see trends). Now all you have to do is create the model and visualization tools!

  2. Jon Husband said, on August 22, 2012 at 15:11

    So I’m thinking about looking for social capital measures in dynamic social networks, in the context of organizations, by comparing multiple snapshots in the past. It can hopefully be used to explain how networks work, and how they can evolve by making possible scenario’s, and what is needed to go for a preferred scenario. Do you think this would be interesting?

    Your last paragraph made me think of the construction of the narrative(s) in the movie Short Cuts by Roger Altman …

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Cuts

  3. Theo (@BPMredux) said, on August 22, 2012 at 15:19

    There’s a problem with that statement: you talk about taking static snapshots in a dynamic context, the two are opposing ideals in my mind. There have been a few examples in organisations where trials of information/ email mining have been conducted to understand socio-professional interactivity and information flow between unrelated silos as well as dig for who the actual information brokers are and the real experts of the business, those ‘go-to’ people not the managerial hierarchy.

    If you introduce an external trigger event by watching these connections fire (like neurons in a way) and talk you can begin to see patterns of how the norm would change and where people go to in times of crisis or dynamic change.

  4. Bas Reus said, on August 22, 2012 at 15:57

    @Theo (1): it resonates to a great extent, and in turn resonates even more with this article: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/48/19193.full
    Have a look at figure 4 and the explanation. The results of fixed vs. fluid structures. Thanks for sharing.

    @Jon: Never seen the movie, will put it on my must see list🙂

    @Theo (2): I agree these are opposing ideals. However, until now, I haven’t found an alternative to study past events. Do you perhaps have alternative directions?

  5. Alberto Manuel (@AlbertoManuel) said, on August 22, 2012 at 18:31

    Hi Bas:

    I particularly liked you approach in a era where people are lost with social stacks and social technology and do not want to understand people collaboration patterns and it’s alignment with knowledge flow.

    I leave here a pointer of my own for reflection. http://ultrabpm.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/new-killer-star/

    Regards.


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