The Power of Network Analysis in Evaluation: It’s Not Just About Facebook!

Have you thought about the importance of your networks, both personal and professional?  How they shape your career and everyday life? Social network analysis (SNA) is a tool used in modern sociology to identify the links between individuals in various social systems.  You can also use it in monitoring and evaluation in order to probe deeper into the power of the social network and how it can be used to measure program outcomes and impact.

In December 2012, I presented at the German Marshall Fund’s event “Best Practices for Young Leader Networks. The purpose of the event was to discuss the importance of networks in leadership programs, many similar to the ones IIE manages. I presented on topics related to measuring the effectiveness of networks.

The causal link between leadership development and social networks is a plausible one.  We can look at program participants as change agents who are given an opportunity to learn and apply skills as a result of their program.  In order to apply these skills, the participants will need to use their networks, new and old, to bring about change.

The task may seem difficult. After all, young scholars have many social networks with which they associate. During their program opportunity, participants will have exposure to new networks: a Hubert M. Humphrey Fellow, for example, will create new networks with his or her host university, other Humphrey Fellows, as well as IIE. Since these new networks stem directly from the program opportunity, this provides the causal link to the program experience.

Participants will also have their old networks, or networks that they had prior to the program. The same Humphrey Fellow may have professional networks from prior jobs, his or her undergraduate studies, and personal contacts. In measuring the effectiveness of both types of networks, we can analyze the potential influence of the program on the individual’s future pathways beyond the singular program experience.

I suggest three ways to analyze the effectiveness of networks:

  1. Frequency and distribution: How many contacts do the program participants have from the program and how often do they keep in touch
  2. Effectiveness and efficiency:  What are the best ways to remain connected and how do alumni, for example, tap into their networks most frequently?
  3. Potential for collaboration: Are there examples of new and joint opportunities for new networks created as a result of the program?

At the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research (CAMR) we plan to use network analysis further in our work and specifically in two of our key evaluations: the IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) Iraq Scholar Rescue Project Evaluation and the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) 10-year Alumni Tracking Study.  As we develop these studies I will further comment on the challenges of tracking networks and analyzing their potential impact.

For more information: